Monday, February 11, 2019

¡Viva México!

The night Felipe and I landed in Mexico City, I was somewhat dazed. I knew CDMX was big, but the phrase "largest city in the Western Hemisphere" is hard to grasp until you see it sprawling from the plane. Felipe was a lifesaver (throughout the whole trip, not just that night); he got us to our Airbnb in la Condesa and directed us around the corner for some tacos al pastor. I'm sure I would have managed somehow with my shabby Duolingo lessons, but I must say, it really helps to travel to Mexico with someone who speaks fluent Spanish!

By the end of the next day, I was obsessed with the place. Mexico City made me feel comfortable. It's lively, but not in a harried way like NYC or a pretentious way like LA. (Yeah, yeah, #NotAllAngelenos.) It has no one distinct architectural style like Chicago. Most of the buildings are painted bright colors, which very much pleased my inner magpie. It also helped that the weather was idyllic the entire week we were there—high 70s and low 80s during the day, slightly cooler at night for sleeping. And the food!

I'll get to the food as we go.

Saturday: My 31st birthday. And what better way to spend mi cumpleaños than by being a total history nerd? After meeting Felipe's wonderful aunt and grandmother (still living in the home his architect grandfather designed, no less), we walked 10 miles (!) through Chapultepec Park to visit the Museo Nacional de Antropología, full of ancient artifacts from the Aztecs, Mayas, and pre-Aztec peoples, and to visit the Castillo de Chapultepec, where Hapsburg puppet ruler Maximilian once resided before he met his grim but not unexpected or even unwarranted fate. (Anyone else listening to the Revolutions podcast series on the Mexican Revolution? Just me?)

From the castle you can get 360-degree views of the city, churches and skyscrapers and the Angel de Independencia soaring above La Reforma. We strolled all the way to that angel before heading back to briefly rest. Later, my sham 1950s husband, who knows me all too well, took me to birthday dinner at a restaurant atop a 3-story librería. Book browsing, margaritas, and full bellies were had by all.

Food: avocado toast (yes, the Millennials have killed CDMX, too), molletes, and filete de pescado al axiote nicanor

Sunday: For a complete change of pace, we gave up walking entirely and instead spent three hours lounging on a vivid boat along the canals of Xochimilco, "the Venice of Mexico." With Felipe's grandma and aunt, we ordered food and drinks from the vendors that pulled up alongside us. There were even floating mariachi bands!

After a quick look at a replica of the creepy doll island (who wants to sail for 5 hours to the original creepy doll island, anyway?), we headed to the Museo Dolores Olmedo. Housed in a gorgeous old convent, its yard overtaken with peacocks and Xoloitzcuintli dogs, the museum's collection is full of Diego Rivera paintings, family photographs of Frida Kahlo, and more.

Later that night we ended up at a bar for dinner and they were playing the Super Bowl. Of course.

Food: chilaquiles, quesadillas, tostadas de atún

Monday: Felipe had to go out of the city to visit his other grandmother, so I took the opportunity to be EVEN MORE OF A HISTORY NERD! I jumped on the subway to Zócalo, the historic center of Mexico City. You've probably seen pictures—big square, big cathedral, big Mexican flag. My favorite thing about the Mexico City subway is that each stop has an image associated with it. So if you can't remember the names of the stops, you just have to remember that you're taking Waving Flag to Piece of Fruit, where you switch to Eagle, etc.

As a proud ex-Catholic, there's nothing I love more than touring historic churches—except perhaps touring historic cemeteries. I went to lots of churches that day, in addition to Templo Mayor (the remains of the Aztec city Tenochtitlán), a Graciela Iturbide photography exhibit at the Palacio de Iturbide, and souvenir shopping at La Ciudadela. On Felipe's recommendation, I ate at Sanborns—this weird chain which is sort of what you'd get if you stuck a Macy's and a Walgreens and an Olive Garden together, except the Olive Garden served Mexican food? And it's owned by Mexico's richest man?

When Felipe and I met up again, we went to dinner—only to find that our chosen restaurant was closed for the Constitution Day holiday. We ended up at another place with fancy mezcal cocktails, so it all worked out.

Food: nutella pastry, enchiladas, and a surprisingly unappealing chicken filet—but it was served with great mashed potatoes!

Tuesday: Early that morning we trekked to the bus station for a trip to Teotihuacán, site of the pre-Aztec Pyramids of the Sun and Moon. We climbed lots of stairs! So many stairs! Steep ones! We made it to the tops of both pyramids for some spectacular views. I got sunburned and I have zero regrets about it.

We ate lunch in a cave. An actual cave.

In the evening we journeyed to Arena México for a Lucha Libre match! At first I was concerned that I would have to choose between the glitter luchador and the fringe luchador and the cape luchador, but luckily they were all on the same team, fighting the bad luchadors who were clearly bad because they all wore black.

It's not the world's most subtle art form, perhaps. But I had a fantastic time. My favorite was Fuego. Can't get over that fringe. It was really good.

Food: pan de chocolate, salad with cactus, delightfully terrible sports arena food

Wednesday: After a leisurely breakfast, we took an Uber to la casa azul, otherwise known as the Frida Kahlo Museum. It's as radiant as you would expect it to be, given who lived there. Felipe warned me that I would want to move into the kitchen, and he was absolutely right. Who can help me decorate my own kitchen with tiny cups? They had an exhibit of her clothes as well—gorgeous.

The neighborhood where the museum is located, Coyoacán, is an old and beautiful place, full of cobblestone streets and bright buildings. We ate lunch at a local market and strolled to the church where Felipe's grandma got married. At this point I really started dreading my imminent return to freezing cold Chicago.

On our final evening, we headed back to the historic center, where we squeezed into the Palacio Nacional just before it closed to see the famous Diego Rivera murals. Then we went to the Palacio de Bellas Artes to see the Ballet Folklorico, which has been performing traditional Mexican dances since the 1950s. The building itself was an art deco masterpiece, featuring not only a Tiffany glass dome, but a Tiffany glass curtain, which is a real thing that exists and moves up and down somehow. Magic, I guess.

Food: huevos rancheros (and another pan de chocolate for good measure), more tostadas, and a salad that, as Felipe put it, looked like it was made by someone who had never seen a salad—but I had ice cream before dinner, so it was fine

Thursday: We flew back to Chicago. It was very early. It is cold and gray here. Why didn't I just stay in Mexico?

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

What is anger?

Let me be perfectly honest with you: it's been a rough 1.5 months.

Partially it's general wintertime depression-lite. (I really have to get one of those lamps.) Mostly it's my shoulder injury—which has gotten a lot better, thanks to prescription anti-inflammatories & over-the-counter anti-inflammatories & CBD cream & Salonpas & ice packs & hot packs & physical therapy & acupuncture & long showers & epsom salt float tanks & & &

(Remind me to tell you more about acupuncture and the float tanks. I'm having all kinds of experiences these days. Good experiences, for the record!)

But even though the pain in my shoulder is getting better, I still don't have full range of motion, and it still hurts when I reach for things the wrong way, or sling a heavy bag over my arm without thinking. And then there's the fact that my other muscles are in pain trying to compensate for my useless shoulder. Last weekend I either had a minefield of knots or one giant mega-knot on the right side of my back that no remedy would assuage. And now my right hand seems to have cramped up.

If I have developed carpal tunnel, I will literally scream.

Which brings me to my main point: I am angry about all this. And I am almost never angry, so I have no idea how to deal with it.

Sure, I've had bad days, just like anyone else. I have certainly been grumpy or cranky. And I've felt other negative moods more intensely, like sadness and anxiety. Who am I kidding? My entire life is basically constant anxiety. For the most part, though, I just don't get angry. Upset or frustrated or offended? Of course. But never rage-filled.

This pain is making me rage-filled. I have had to work very hard not to snap at people for having the audacity to speak to me. The other day I said "I hate you" aloud when my phone rang at work, just to make it clear where I stand on the subject of phone calls. (Thank goodness it was before I answered.) I have been cooking far more noisily than I need to.

I'm not sure why I'm so angry. It might be that I think my pain is unfair, since I didn't do anything stupid to injure myself—though I'm well aware life isn't fair. It might be that I'm impatient, and that there's not much I can do to fix it except perform tedious exercises for only tiny gains and wait and wait and wait. I suspect a big part of it is that my injury has prevented me from exercising, which is an important stress-reliever for me.

So, angry people of the world: I need your advice. How do you cope with anger? How do you express it in a healthy way? Screaming into a pillow or smashing a plate seems so...theatrical. Or maybe a better question is how do you get rid of anger?

I am genuinely unsure. Anger is not a familiar emotion to me. Please help.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Winter 2018/19 Playlist: Annotated

Dropping this playlist a little later than I wanted, but considering how much time I lost tending to my injured arm last month, it's amazing I put one together at all!

This season's themes: swoopy backing vocals, trumpets 


1) "我要你的爱" by Lan Ge: When I saw Crazy Rich Asians this summer, I immediately fell for this song—because I could understand it! I traveled to Beijing ten years ago this month (!!!), so my Mandarin has deteriorated significantly. But "I want your love" is simple enough for me to remember, apparently. Amazing what the brain can hold onto over the years. Let's take a look at baby Becky in China, shall we?
可爱!

2) "Song 31" by Noname, featuring Phoelix: Just in terms of the general zeitgeist, 2018 was a shitshow. So it was wonderfully refreshing that Noname released a new song on the first day of 2019, washing us clean and ushering us into the new year. Swoopy backing vocals in full effect here.
3) "Bloodless" by Andrew Bird: Because I will put Andrew Bird on all the playlists forever and ever amen. What can I say? He's prolific and consistently good.
4) "Look What I Found" by Lady Gaga: Despite my love for Gaga, I actually had low expectations for A Star is Born—people were too hyped for me to trust it. But I really enjoyed the movie, and its soundtrack, too. Love the 70s vibe on this one; it's like updated Billy Joel.
5) "The Palace" by Father John Misty: This was my second favorite song on Father John Misty's latest album. It's certainly mopey, but it's pretty. The stark piano here makes a good transition from Gaga's jaunty piano to Nao's quiet and ethereal piano. Maybe piano is another seasonal theme?
6) "Blue Wine" by Nao: I think I'm a sucker for high-pitched voices. This isn't off Nao's most recent album, but I thought it was perfect for winter. Just picture snow falling while you listen to this song.
7) "Patricia" by Florence + The Machine: I knew I wanted to add this song to my winter playlist the first time I heard it. It's so dramatic! "Patricia" sounds like snowfall, too—but a wild blizzard instead of flurries.
8) "Something About This Girl" by Tasha: What can I say about Chicago's own Tasha? Her soft music is utterly lovely. I have teared up listening to it more than once. It's like therapy.
9) "Earl Grey (Stuck in a Groove)" by Girl Ray: I've been enjoying Girl Ray all throughout the fall and winter, and the many movements in this 13-minute composition definitely evoke the season—in a vintage way. It really does seem like you should listen to it with a cup of tea warming your hands.
10) "Well...All Right" by Buddy Holly: Buddy Holly is the shit. That is all.
11) "Manic Depression" by Laura Jane Grace & the Devouring Mothers: Looooooove this little punk album from the inimitable Laura Jane Grace. This song is depressing, obviously. But I appreciate the way it builds.
12) "Music Machine" by Gabriella Cohen: Spotify delivered this one to me on a Discover Weekly playlist. Thanks, Corporate Overlords! This is going to sound weird, but if tracks 10 and 11 had a baby, it would be this song.
13) "Technicolor" by Typesetter: In my humble opinion, "Technicolor" is the standout track on Typesetter's long-awaited album Nothing Blues. It reminds me of something I might have listened to in high school—in a good way. That trumpet is everything.
14) "I Like That" by Janelle Monáe: Though it may seem counter-intuitive to put a hip-hop track after a punk track, the backing vocals go together really well! I couldn't help it! I promised you I'd put Ms. Monáe on every seasonal playlist this year, and this was clearly the song for winter.
15) "Gravity" by DM Stith: I am mildly obsessed with the wonderful weirdness that is DM Stith, so I was psyched that he released a few new songs this year. "Gravity" is also like snow, but when it becomes dirty sludge piled on the side of the road.
16) "Like A Match" by Louis Cole: Louis Cole is another Discover Weekly discovery. (If you don't use those playlists, you're doing it wrong—Spotify's algorithms are excellent.) I was struck by how similar his voice was to DM Stith's, so it made sense to put the song here.
17) "Party Like Your Heart Hurts" by Rubblebucket: Decided to bring up the pace of the playlist here for a big, four-song finale. I love how the trumpet sneaks into this song. If you are having a winter dance party, this is the track for you.
18) "Blood in the Cut - Seattle Sessions Version" by K.Flay: You may have heard K.Flay before—she's kind of having a moment. I saw her at Riot Fest this year, in fact. But if you haven't listened to the Seattle Sessions tracks on the deluxe version of her album, you are missing out. They are full of horns and strings and other orchestral goodness. Can't get enough of the marching band vibe here.
19) "BOSS" by The Carters: When this album came out, I wanted to put a track on my fall playlist because I was listening to it so much—but none of the songs said "autumn" to me. This song says winter, and it definitely has trumpets. Check and check. I feel like Jay-Z's verse is somewhat subpar. I kind of feel that way about the whole album, actually—just get out of the way and let Bey shine! But then, who am I to judge? It's still a solid song.
20) "Sailor" by Twin Danger: I wanted another big band song to bookend the playlist, and I'm glad I remembered this Twin Danger track from their 2014 album. Makes me want to go Lindy-Hopping. I never learned how to properly Lindy-Hop, actually. But I want to Lindy-Hop in spirit

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Ow! My arm! Or: Where I've Been, Where I'm Going

Early in December I developed a bad case of calcific tendinitis in my right shoulder, which is to say that a calcium deposit appeared within my shoulder tendons for reasons unknown. Seriously! Nobody really knows why it happens. It's probably just that I'm a weakling who puts more stress on my tendons than I should because my back and arm muscles are pathetic.

It's happened to me once before, when I was living in Vegas—and at the time, I thought it was horrible. Little did I know it could get worse. I honestly think this most recent bout of it has been the most physically painful experience of my life. I had to go to the ER because I was literally yelping every time I moved, and the cortisone shot I finally received after one harrowing weekend merely dulled the pain.

There's nothing you can do about calcific tendinitis—it goes away on its own. The body reabsorbs the calcium deposit. I don't really understand how that works, but apparently it's true. So I spent my holidays resting, icing, and taking high doses of prescription NSAIDs.

Fortunately, I have the world's greatest friends. When my pain was at its worst, they walked my dog, did my dishes, drove me to appointments, helped me dress, and more. Eternally grateful for Meg, Molly, Felipe, and the rest of you.

My arm still hurts, but nowhere near as badly as it did a month ago. I still have poor range of motion, but I start physical therapy on Thursday. So hopefully I'll be in fighting shape soon. (*knock on wood*)

I don't want to dwell on unhappy things; I just wanted to get it all out on virtual paper so that I can leave my injury behind in the new year. Here's to 2019!

Of course, I must acknowledge that plenty of wonderful things happened to me in 2018:
  • I visited friends in Las Vegas and continued my passport stamp sleeve
  • I spent my 30th birthday with Meg at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter—and our friends threw us an incredible HP-themed surprise party 
  • I went to see Hamilton with my family
  • I adopted the world's cutest dog—my lovely Oklahoma
  • I attended the AWP Conference in Tampa and met the Split Lip crew in person for the first time
  • I experienced that rarest of delights, a full Smear of Brain reunion, when Leta visited Chicago
  • I went to see Jesus Christ Superstar at the Lyric Opera with Mollymoll
  • I visited Leta in Denver and drank chai and started my second novel
  • I saw Janelle Monae in concert *swoon* (not to mention loads of other great bands like Ezra Furman and Franz Ferdinand)
  • I went to the last day of Pitchfork festival to see artists like Noname and Chaka Khan
  • I got an agent (still internally squealing about that one)
  • I joined a competitive online trivia league which I thoroughly enjoy because I'm a nerd
  • I went to Riot Fest to see artists like Father John Misty and Blondie
  • I got a promotion and a raise at work
  • I took an epic road trip with my doggo to Nashville, new-favorite-city-Louisville, and Columbus
  • I read 41 books
  • I published stories in Occulum and [PANK] and five:2:one and CHEAP POP 
I don't want to leave those things behind in 2018. Those things can come with me and join whatever good things 2019 brings—fingers crossed! 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Process

Alas, I have spent all my spare time playing catch-up on my book review blog, and therefore have had no time to update this blog. Truth be told, I have eventual plans to fold them into one blog, since the current state of my life really doesn't allow for both. Stay tuned.

The Thanksgiving break was nice; I was able to add more descriptions to my skeletal second novel draft. I always laugh when I hear authors say that they just write and write and write and then have to scale back while editing. My process is the exact opposite (when it comes to novels, at least). I speed through the first draft, just trying to get a plot on paper. But then I'm left with barely more than a structure, a little over 100 pages, and I have to add in all the descriptions and proper character development later.

I very much enjoy writing descriptions, but they're time-consuming. When I'm working on my rough draft, I can write several pages in one session, since it's just the basics. But it can take me a half hour to write one good description.

As for character development, I absolutely hate it. Why do my characters need motivations again? Why do they need personal histories? Obviously, I'm aware that the novel won't be any good without character development, but it's my least favorite part. Part of the problem is that in my brain, I substitute voice for character development. If a character has a particularly strong voice--which mine often do, because I like writing in voice--I don't care about their background. I think that's why I like writing flash so much; character development still needs to be there, but much less so.

Anyway, once I write in those descriptions, I'll probably send the draft to a few close friends, because I'm too stupid to understand what I've left out about the characters on my own. Also, it will be good to put it away for a while and work on something else, so I can pick it up later with fresh eyes. Then I might not be too stupid to fix it. I could learn something in between. You never know.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Columbus

Today I left my beautiful, well-furnished Louisville apartment for Columbus, Ohio. So far I like Columbus a lot less—but the weather is garbage, and I'm not feeling too hot, so my impression may not be Columbus' fault! Also I've been here for a whopping two hours, so I shouldn't make a snap judgment.

I must say, I do like the little coffee shop where I'm writing this post—but then, I am a sucker for cute coffee shops in general. This one is called The Roosevelt Coffeehouse, and it's a nonprofit that supports various causes. I'm waiting here because my Airbnb won't be ready until 5:30—they're doing construction on the street. On the bright side, Okie did pass her doggy daycare assessment, so I'll have somewhere to drop her off during Catherine and Arnaud's wedding tomorrow! I have no idea what I would have done had she failed. But she is a very, very good dog.

And she's stuck alone in the car right now, poor thing.

I think my gloom may have something to do with the fact that I LOVE LOUISVILLE. Seriously, I want to move there. It's absolutely charming.

Mostly I did what I did in Nashville—eat food and walk my dog. But Louisville seemed much more...genuine? I'm not sure that's the right word. It seemed more lived-in, scrappy and optimistic. I was staying in a little neighborhood near the university and Germantown, in an apartment above somebody's garage. I must admit, it was a relief staying somewhere larger than a tiny house. There was a stove! I made so much tea!

The other nice thing about this place was that I could leave Okie there, so I was able to go more places than I could in Nashville.

PLACES I WALKED:
  • The Big Four Bridge, a pedestrian path over an old railroad bridge that takes you into Indiana and back again. Unfortunately they didn't allow pets on the bridge, but I did take Okie for a looooong walk in the Waterfront Park nearby.
  • Cave Hill Cemetery, where I stumbled upon Muhammad Ali's grave.
  • Old Louisville, where they have loads of beautiful, historic houses, complete with old fashioned gas lamps outside. Not to mention one really creepy lamplighter statue. 
  • Cherokee Park, which was lush with autumn trees and where this hawk just hung out a few feet away from me.
PLACES I ATE:
  • Kentucky Taco Company, which I went over in my last post.
  • The Brown Hotel, where I had my first Mint Julep (surprising!) and my first Hot Brown (less surprising!).
  • The Dairy Del, which has been open since 1951 and where they'll give your dog its own ice cream sundae for free.
  • Garage Bar, which is, as the name suggests, a bar/pizza joint inside what used to be an auto garage.
  • Nord's Bakery, which was dangerously close to my apartment and has amazing donuts.
  • Please & Thank You, where fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies are their claim to fame.
  • Sunergos Coffee, which has a ginger mocha on its fall menu.
Another highlight was touring the Rabbit Hole bourbon distillery—and not just because I got samples. They've only been operating since 2012, and their facility was built to let visitors get a good look at the distilling process. You can stick your fingers right into the vats of mash and try it. (Don't worry—they heat it up a lot later on.) I went on an early tour, so it was just me and two pilots who weren't drinking because they had to, you know, fly a plane. Although one of them was totally bananas, and he kept bragging about how much booze he'd brought on his private plane before, and how many guns he'd brought on his private plane before, and the tour guide and I were just nodding along in bewilderment and mild fear. So that was interesting. 

And then there was shopping! Do you love colorful trinkets made by local artists? Louisville has you covered. I visited Butchertown Market and Revelry Boutique Gallery and I ONLY bought three pairs of earrings you guys. That's some serious self-control. I also stopped by a wonderful used bookstore called Nanny Goat Books, which is housed inside an old paper factory. 

Anyway, I completely fell in love with the city, and I'm 100% serious about wanting to move there. I checked, and I could rent an entire house for the same amount of money I'm paying for my one-bedroom apartment in Chicago. And yes, I might have to deal with a horrible Republican politician or two or twenty, but think about it—I'd also get the chance to vote against Mitch McConnell. And what a pleasure that would be! Who's with me?

Oh, also, writing—I did the thing. Lots of typing. My hands hurt. But it's my own damn fault—I was the one who decided to write an entire novel draft by hand without typing up a single word.

Anyway, Catherine and Arnaud are getting married tomorrow, and I'm looking forward to that very much. Maybe I'll wear one of my new pairs of earrings. And then it's back to Chicago on Sunday, which is absurd, because I feel like I've only been gone a few days. Wouldn't it be cool if we only worked for six months a year, and then for the other six months we just did whatever we wanted? I bet we'd all be a lot happier and healthier. If only...

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Louisville

Yesterday I left my Nashville tiny house for a much larger furnished apartment above somebody's garage in Louisville. The drive was short and the weather was sunny.

My Airbnb is close to the University of Louisville campus, so I walked Okie around there so she could stretch her legs, then stopped at Kentucky Taco Company for dinner—which, as it turns out, has only been open for two weeks, though it was a food truck for years before that. Might I recommend the Fried Chicken Mac & Beer Cheese taco? The Vegan BBQ taco was also good, for the record.

Today I get to really start exploring the city—but before that, let me tell you about Nashville!

I mainly did two things in Nashville:
  • Walk my dog 
  • Eat
The walking was absolutely gorgeous. We went to Radnor Lake State Park and to the Shelby Bottom Greenway. And the trails behind my Airbnb weren't too shabby, either.

The eating was absolutely delicious. The first night I joined my dad at Tennessee Brew Works, since he was driving through Nashville on his way to Florida. Another great spot was Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint. (Pro-tip to tourists: the Martin's location I saw downtown was totally mobbed, but the one I visited in Belmont was just fine.) And Loveless Cafe was a whole damn experience. It took me an hour to drive there, and I waited 1.5 hours to eat, but it was totally worth it. (There were lots of gift shops to explore on their property anyway.) This was the half portion.

What else? I walked Okie by The Ryman lest I fail in my tourism duties. She was a hit with the old ladies. Turns out Okie's scared of loud drumming—she wouldn't walk past the honky tonks on Broadway. I also stopped by Parnassus Books because bookstore tourism is my favorite kind of tourism. And I didn't even buy a book! Be proud of me. I did buy a coffee mug, though.

As for the writing, it went pretty well. It was a bit harder than I expected, since my tiny house was 35-40 minutes away from the city, so if I wanted to do anything at all I had a decent commute to contend with. That left me with less time for the writing retreat portion of this trip, but hopefully it will be better in Louisville, since I'm a lot closer to everything.

Even so, I did manage to complete an extra-extra-rough draft of my second novel! So rough that it's filled with notes like MAKE THIS BETTER and NAME THIS THING LATER, and it's all written by hand right now, so my next project is to type it up and make it prettier. But the point is: it exists.

Alright. I'm off to walk Okie across a large bridge (I'll take pictures for you, Molly), and maybe visit the grave of Colonel Sanders himself. Wish me luck.