In the Cloud

clouds
There’s a mariachi band with a giant guitar following me. I can’t resist their big, bright sound – I’m bouncing along with a smile on my face and I look around to see if anyone else is loving this song like I am. But the train is almost silent. We are separately absorbed in our playlists; ear buds in, white cords trailing.

A cloud forms over my head filled with musical notes and festive costumes. It nudges all of the other clouds in the train car: last night’s talk show, a mystery novel, an interview, a sit-com. At stops, the door opens, clouds whoosh out, and others whoosh in. I’m standing close to other commuters and curious about what they’re listening to. Could we trade earbuds for a moment, just to sample the other entertainment options? Here, listen to Adele’s new song, or Jim Dale’s wonderful voice reading Harry Potter, the Tonight Show monologue, Terry Gross’ latest interview. Maybe reintroduce conversation to the ride and finally learn the name of the lady who rides with me every day. I’m getting carried away. No one returns my gaze.

Regional trains designate quiet cars where phone use is prohibited. At least, phone conversations. I guess if you’ve got another hour to sleep on the way to work, it’s nice to have a quiet place. City trains have no such designation, so if there’s a strong enough signal, some people are talking in that odd way to a distant friend: staring into space, seeming to talk to themselves. But mostly, people in the cars don’t interact. It would be fun to have a “sharing” car where people take turns playing their music, book, or podcast out loud. Telling others why they like it or find it thought-provoking. Maybe that’s too much to ask at 7am, or in a space where eye contact can be a suspect invitation.

In fiction, zombies continue to go to the places they knew before they died, following long-forgotten routines in a haze. A train car in an underground tunnel is a terrible place to discover you’re surrounded by zombies. Could I reach the emergency exit before the shuffling crowd? The train reaches my stop. I climb the stairs to the street. Pulling my earbuds out, sound fills my ears: traffic, people talking, birds, wind whistling between the buildings. Faintly, I think I hear the moan of “…brains…” behind me and I walk faster.

Close-Up

theatreWhen you attend a live play, you see the actors sweat, spit, quiver, and cry. You hear the joy in their voice, and the pain in their screams. It’s electric in a way that film rarely is. When you have season tickets, you get to see the same actors as different characters, and you feel like you’re getting to know them. The tall, dark, man, the petite ingenue, the bawdy woman, and the balding father figure.

I was a singing secretary in my high school production of How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Costumes! Pancake make-up! Long rehearsals with my friends! After 3 performances, the cast was so pumped that we were sure we could take our show on the road. Instead, we returned to our neglected schoolwork, essay deadlines mercifully pushed back by understanding teachers. I never took a role on stage again, but I was an usher at Actors Theatre of Louisville and grew to love what the professionals could do. I saw so many nights of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest that I never bothered to see the movie. I couldn’t imagine that it was better than what I saw live. I probably wasn’t aware of it at the time, but ATL was an important regional theatre. Hosting a festival of new plays, some of the works that premiered there were award-winning, and some went on to Broadway. My husband and I had our first date there – it was an edgy new play – thus establishing a life-long attachment to the theatre wherever we’ve lived.

For the last few years we’ve sampled lots of different theatre around Chicago. The large and diverse theatre scene ranges from improv, original works, classics, musicals, or just Shakespeare. Some venues are enormous, and others hold an audience of 40. Even a classic like A Christmas Carol, emerges in great variety: Klingon, rap musical, beat poet, Second City send-up, and an amazing minimalist version with just 3 actors.

We went to a neighborhood theatre yesterday for the first time. Small venue, original work, 2 twenty-something actors and a 6-person Greek chorus of high school kids in masks. An edgy new play that raised more questions than answers. I look forward to getting to know the actors in this company.

Am I a Native?

When I meet people, and they pick up on my slight southern accent, they’ll ask where I’m from. Louisville, I’ll answer, pronouncing it as any native would: Louavull. Louisville_SkylineBorn and raised there, and though I’ve been away for over 25 years, I still call it home. It’s where my mom is, the houses I grew up in, a fair number of my relatives and school mates, and all of the cultural and geographic touchstones of my young life. Where I learned to drive with my dad, the paths I walked to elementary, junior high, and high school, and the wonderful swim club built into a quarry where I spent my summers. The church I grew up in and was married in, parks where I ran, and the course of my one and only marathon. The office tower where I had my first full-time job, and the court where I was a juror.

Of course I visit as often as I can. For holidays with the family, summer trips, class reunions, and just because. And each time, I feel a slight twinge that I’ve become a stranger. Louisville has the nerve to be a vibrant living city that grows and changes, while my memories don’t. Much of what I visit is the same, but new things intrude: new businesses and restaurants, development on the riverfront, expanded roadways to new shopping malls. I have to ask directions, and I indulge in a common Louisville habit of giving and following directions including long-gone buildings: “Drive east till you get to the old Sears building, turn, then cross the railroad tracks.” or “ It’s next to the old Vogue Theatre.”

We’ve lived in Chicago for 10 years, and while I don’t call myself a native, I have learned my way around the expansive area called Chicagoland. Like all places you want to live, Chicago keeps your interest by growing and changing. Neighborhoods have transformed while I watched. The last Cabrini Green apartment towers are now a Target, the YMCA is a shopping and movie complex, the gas station is a gleaming Apple Store, and the tow lot (yes, I had to retrieve my car there once) is a boating store. Old rusting bridges have been replaced by wider ones, and new skyscrapers have taken their place in the Loop. People coming to Chicago now won’t have this weird double vision: seeing the current building, and simultaneously remembering when the corner looked different.

It’s exciting to see Chicago change around me; being there to see the transformation is part of owning it. True Chicago natives have much longer memories of changes they’ve observed, but I guess I’ve earned a sort of “junior native” status after a decade. If asked, “where do you live” I will say Chicago, happily. But where am I from? The Louisville of my deep memory, frozen in place, so I can revisit it always.

Art Apprentice

DMartRemember those TV ads, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV”? I’m not an art critic, but I play one at home. I’m surrounded by artists in my family, but I’m not an artist. Stick figures are the height of my capabilities, though I’ll admit, I’ve not tried to develop those skills. In school, I sketched for art class, and produced a beautiful, detailed pencil drawing of our house. But subsequent attempts weren’t that memorable, and I wasn’t filled with a passion to improve. What appealed to me was art history. In my high school humanities class, we studied art and I loved learning everything from Greek sculpture to French impressionists. In college I took more art history classes, and had the opportunity to visit The Louvre. Standing before Monet’s haystacks, or Winged Victory of Samonthrace was awe-inspiring.

I’ve continued to love art, seeking out a museum in any city I visit. The surprise is how art has become a part of my daily life. I married a teacher who loves to draw. His father painted seriously (though it wasn’t his career), and my husband was encouraged to develop his early skill. Some art is in process at all times at home; whether a small doodle on the corner of a piece of scrap paper, or a series of paintings covering our dining table. Our first baby room was decorated with a stencil my husband designed and painted, and he created works we could frame for the kids’ rooms. We always encouraged our kids’ art, and strove to coax their efforts onto paper, rather than furniture or walls. There were many fun Sundays on the kitchen table with paint brushes, markers, and colored pencils. Running out of surface area on the refrigerator, we turned a long wall of our kitchen into a gallery of our kids’ art. Now, every room is filled with family art, both my father-in-laws’ watercolors and my husband’s works in pen and ink or watercolor. What we’ve hung on the walls is a fraction of what bulges out of a portfolio in the closet. That’s where my husband’s works reside, until called for another purpose.

This weekend, we put up over 25 pieces of my husband’s art in the school gallery. Pen and ink, acrylic, oversized doodles, fabric printed with electronically-designed patterns. Part of an ongoing display of student or faculty art, his works will be on display for 2 weeks. My job? To help measure, pin, staple, adjust, and render judgement on the final display. I’m not a trained curator, but I’ve had lots of experience providing feedback on art made in my family. Now I need to comment on what goes well with what. Does this piece hang horizontal or vertical? Should this go next to that? I use my gut instinct, knowing that my art sensibility isn’t as refined as others. Suddenly I’m the reason that bright painting is on the dark fabric background! Not bad for a stick-figure artist.

Emergency

emergencyNo one ever plans a trip to the emergency room. It’s an accident, or medical
surprise, that takes you there. My husband appears at the door, his hand partially covering his bloody face. Time is momentarily suspended while my mind races. What happened? What do we need to do? What do I need to grab so we can go to the hospital? Of course, I’ve just taken my car to the shop, so we are hailing a cab. It would be so much more fun to say “follow that car!” instead of “take us to the nearest emergency room!”

We rush inside, the staff gets a quick recap of the injury and triage takes over. While bloody, our case isn’t life threatening or acute. We can wait while others are seen. I present IDs and fill out out forms while the priest who cannot breathe, and the woman who is moaning move to exam rooms. I don’t wish more injuries on my husband, but I’m pretty sure a compound fracture and an eyeball hanging out of the socket would move us up in priority. As my adrenaline dissipates, it seems harder to wait, and wait.

We’ve been to the emergency room a number of times over the years – broken bones, kidney stones, split lip, scratched cornea, contusions – with eventually good outcomes. Though the injuries are different, the experience (relatively brief and intense) is similar every time. You begin with a single-minded focus on your own injured loved one. Then, you begin to notice the other people thrown together in the most public of places: the emergency waiting room. Families slumped in chairs watching the TV like it was a lifeline, nurses talking to a drunk lady to find out where she’s been, police escorting people in and out, half covered bodies on gurneys being rushed away, spouses reciting medical plan information, nurses who know a woman by her first name from frequent visits, and a boy questioned about how he fell and broke his arm.

Alternately chaotic and quiet, being here is like an odd half-life, surreal and separate from the day or evening you were having before the emergency. A place where you’ve ceded control to the medical staff. No indignation or influence can change the triage approach. You need their expertise, their tools, their advice. But I feel lucky to have medical coverage, and to not need emergency care very often.

Half a day for my husband to get an X-ray and a few stitches.  Time to go home, pick up prescriptions and start the next phase of treatment: chicken soup, a soft pillow, and time.