Thursday, February 11, 2016

It is currently a sunny, albeit blistery, 22 degrees in Chicago, which means it's a perfect time to look through old photos that I've never posted here and took with a used camera I bought about a year ago. Photos of my street at the peak of summer's golden hour or during that quick season when yellow and orange leaves gather in the curb. It's all mostly foliage, really.

Like many of my purchases, my camera (a Sony NEX-3K) is not very fussy and reasonably priced because I'm not a very extravagant person. Lately though, for my job and for personal reasons, I've been reading up on shooting manual, styling photos, camera lighting, design and marketing, pitching story ideas, optimizing websites, analytics and SEO, content promotion, etc., etc., which makes me think I should upgrade and spend my next paycheck on a Canon DSLR.

But really, I'm happy with my Sony, with its giant lens and in comparison, dainty camera body. I'm happy with how it takes photos that remind me of warmer tones when I look through on a frigid day in February. 

In my constant attempts to mejorar, or keep getting better at what I do, I think of Patti Smith, who I saw this fall in a church during her book tour for M Train. An attendee asked about the photography in her book, and she said, in a very Patti Smith way, "Oh I never bother with F-stops or any of that. I just look for beautiful things. I do it to create something for the day."

She's wise, that one. 

And while I'm excited to learn more, to shoot manual, to post more, to write better, I'm also heartened by Patti Smith's words (always) in M Train about her days and years when she never went anywhere with her writing: "I wasn't anybody," she said. "I worked in a bookstore and took leave to write a book I never really wrote." 

I'm heartened, I guess, by the idea of doing but never worrying about where that will take you.

Monday, January 25, 2016

I don't like getting too personal here; in a way it still feels like the hardest part about being a writer. But photos of a weekend trip to Michigan don't seem to convey the scope of what I'm feeling either. 

I hate the look of perfection, cleanliness. (But I love it too.)

Maybe I read the news too much, and the accounts affect me more than I know. Or getting older, I have met too many people. Their tragedy on facebook touches me (a boating accident in Hawaii). Or the people they know's tragedy touches me (a terrifying way to go in Belize).

And then there's the somewhat paltry in comparison day-to-day stuff. A new relationship. A second time around. The same old me. 

Perhaps that's why I like fiction. To deal with all of this with a front, hiding behind imaginary story lines.

It's hard. How can someone enjoy what is inevitably a short life? By going out to brunch? By writing and taking photos of it all? By reading a lot and soaking in a hot tub? 

Or by spending your days fighting for something bigger? Yet that's also the surest way to scars.

I should get out and go on a walk. That seems to be all I know for now.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

It’s the beginning of the new year, which calls for resolutions and year-end lists looking back on highs and lows. At times, I think this serves as useless filler for magazines but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t about to do the same. Last year, I made a resolution to read twenty books during the year and find a babysitting job nearby for extra income. I ended up babysitting all of three times this past year. Instead of earning extra money, I spent more time working on the first goal, reading eighteen books in total. All in all, I’d say it was a success. Or, you know, something of the sort.

Basically, I'm just happy that last year I went from having big, lofty goals to small, specific ones. Goals that I actually accomplished (and that eventually will get me closer to the big, lofty ones). I hope to keep on doing this next year, and maybe even do it a little bit better.

Like last year, I wanted to use this space to share my favorite works of writing that I've stumbled on through the internet. So here it is: a favorites list. For various reasons, these pieces have stuck with me.  

"Good Pilgrims" by Sarah Menkedick - An immigrant tale of a different nature that speaks of returning, of wanting to hold on to what’s good in both places. In this case, a man conflicted, who is “not fully here, in poverty and tradition, and not fully there, in emptiness and wealth”.

"You're Boring" by Tim Mazurek - My favorite blog post of the year. Mazurek writes about food but touches on larger issues such as diversity and the suffocating nature of certain creative environments.

"If It Bleeds It Leads" by Bea Malsky - I’ve lived in two places (Chicago and Tegucigalpa) where homicides occur frequently. At times it makes me anxious but I've been lucky enough to live somewhat isolated from it all. I read about the violence everyday, which affects me, but again, at a distance. This article came about when I was wondering the very question it asked: how does documenting the violence affect the victims, the reporter, the community?

"No-Man's-Land" by Eula Bliss - Eula Bliss has received a lot of press for her new book, On Immunity, and her New York Times' piece on White Debt (which I recommend) but before I read those, I stumbled upon her essay about living in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. She can come across privileged and very woe is me but she dissects that feeling and uses it tell a story I'm interested in reading.

"Letter to my Readers" by Sandra Cisneros - Sandra Cisneros is my soul sister, woman crush, literary idol. We grew up worlds apart but ni modo, I sped through her newest book A House of my Own in a daze. I discovered she was publishing the memoir after reading through letters to her fans on her website earlier this year. This particular letter struck me, especially the part where she discusses why she never married and doesn't have kids: “I am not against marriage, but I never met anyone who I thought would stick around for sixty or more years... I could not afford to have children alone and my heart would break if I had to get divorced." There was a period a few years ago (that I don't think will ever go away) where people were asking if women could have it all. But that question always seemed lacking to me. I don't think anyone can have it all. I prefer to talk about sacrifice and hear Cisneros speak honestly about what she had to give up in order to achieve her sueño

"How to Become Batman" by Invisibilia – I listened to this podcast when I needed it in more ways than one. It’s riveting, also hopeful, and possibly even transformative.   

"The Problem We All Live With" by This American Life – Another one of my favorite podcasts of the year. The comments from parents at the town hall meeting were expected but utterly depressing. Listen so you never become such a parent!

"The Summer That Never Was" by Tim Kreider – Finally, I love this essay about a summer the writer spent unable to get to all the plans he envisioned. It’s a piece of writing that I could read over and over again.

If you're looking for more regular updates on my internet wanderings, you can follow me on Twitter. Most of the time, I just retweet the articles that Annie Avilés reads so you can always look there too.

Also let me know, what have I missed?'

Pictured above: some books I treated myself to this Christmas, buying them used on Amazon. I'm hoping to put the books to use for a new project this year.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

I took a break from writing to spend time with the flood of family and friends who came in for the holidays. I'll be back after the New Year with some thoughts on the things that I've read this past year.

But for now, a Christmas gift from me to you.

Now go hug your grandma(s)!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

It is early evening, and I'm sitting in my bed with a glass of tea. I woke up overly ambitious, with a to-do list that inevitably did not get done. I spent my morning sitting in my laundry room over a plastic garbage bag, sifting through cones of compost and separating worms from the finished byproduct of feeding them my kitchen scraps. Harvesting the compost was mostly a process of trial and error, consisting of two days of work and my scrunched up face watching various Youtube tutorials.

After working on the compost bin, I went on a walk with my boyfriend that lasted longer than expected. It was sunny and fifty degrees out on a December day so we were taking our time, stopping into a neighborhood church and a nearby bar for a beer. Mainly though, we were going slowly because my boyfriend got into a bike accident last week and hasn't been walking the same since. After the walk, I headed to the grocery and then rushed home to make myself a quick dinner and now, I'm finally getting to this blog. This was my day. It was a good day, minus my boyfriend’s bruised knee and his unwanted immobility. It was eventful, though not noteworthy, which is precisely why I believe it has some distinct importance.

I’ve been blogging for over a year now. I’ve been reading blogs since my days in Honduras, when I had down time and internet access at my office. It’s a curated format, which we all know makes it a bit of an eye roll, but also at its best, it is writing that does what good writing strives to do: allows for escape, inspires a daydream and occasionally, the real conjuring up of future plans. Through blogging, I have read the thoughts of a medical student researching in Vietnam, a painter on leave in India, a florist tackling owning her own business. I have read many, many kitchen thoughts. Clicking through, it’s a film roll of well cropped photos but I stay for the real win. It gets me every time. It’s the words.

More specifically, it’s the writing of the everyday. Media bombards us with tragedy and so at times I search for normalcy. Getting a grant to spend your days painting in India is not normal per se but what that person ate, who that person encountered on the way to the market, what quiet moment they had during their week - when written well, interests me.

I wish I could find a blog from a Honduran who would upload her everyday on the internet. I’m sure it exists, and I’m sure when documented, it’s more nuanced and varied than the news of Central America we read here. There are a lot of other voices I haven’t spent enough time trying to find. I crave the subject matter of blogs but not always the voices – mostly white, college educated women (This could be on me, unknowingly drawn to voices that mirror my own). But fortunately, that void is filled by my greater love of fiction and memoirs. It is filled by Sandra Cisneros, Jhumpa Lahiri, Rafia Zakaria, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, Daniel Alarcón, Francisco Goldman, Gish Jen.

A little more than a year in, I keep trying to figure out the angle of this blog and its focus. If I think about it, most of my posts end up being filed under "mental wanderings" but maybe in the midst of all of the other tragedies circulating in our news feed, that's the narrative I crave. When honest, maybe there's something both significant and modest in the narrative of the everyday.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

My relationship with Chicago is probably my most forgiving relationship. If I could choose, I would live in a place where you could hike on the weekends, somewhere quieter and smaller where houses have yards, maybe down South where winters aren't as long (a city in North Carolina perhaps?). But Chicago is home, one that I both complain about and defend. It's a complicated, loving, real relationship. 

At times, it's easy for me to find its allure. Things are happening in this city - not as much as in New York or LA - but the art scene is expansive, stimulating, and inclusive. Its tree lined streets, bungalows, and lakeshore add to its charm. Even though the land is flat and fairly unexciting, there are some nice Midwest hideaways like lakehouses in Michigan or farms in rural Illinois or Madison, Wisconsin. And the advantage of living in a big city means that no matter how long I live here, there are always pockets I stumble upon that I never knew existed before.

I've wanted to do a guide to my hometown in this space forever so here it finally goes...

The Lake - Lake Michigan is the largest piece of natural beauty in the city. Head to the lake shore for a run, a walk, or a bike ride. Sit on its concrete steps with a glass of wine or in the grassy areas and read. It is by far my favorite place in Chicago and a must-see if you come visit.

iO - The second best place in the city. Every night hosts multiple improv shows. I tend to go on Wednesday nights when the shows are free and the lineup hosts two of my favorite improv groups (Carl & the Passions and the Virgin Daiquiris). Bonus, the new location is right across the street from Chicago's largest Whole Foods, which is indulgent and obnoxious and really fun.

Millennium Park - The Art Institute, the Bean, the Pritzker Pavilion, and Maggie Daley Park all sit nestled together in the loop. Even if it is a debt-ladened endeavor, like most Chicago ventures, it is well done. The Bean never fails to amaze me, the Art Institute is my favorite place to spend an afternoon, and the Pritzker Pavilion (an outside concert venue) has movies in the park and live music during the summer. Everyone comes to gather in the pavilion after work and picnic on the grass with wine and cheese on warm days.

The Green Mill - The Green Mill is an iconic jazz bar that keeps its crowds small and always makes for an enjoyable night out. For other nightlife options, I've been meaning to check out Rosa's Lounge, a blues bar in my neighborhood. For dancing, I love Berlin, which (as yelp puts it) has "a diverse, no-attitude, all-orientations crowd on the dance floor." I recently discovered CumbiaSazo, a monthly dance party in Wicker Park that plays cumbia and other Latin music all night long, and Beauty Bar hosts nineties themed dance parties that are popular. Chicago has an endless amount of dive bars; for example, Delilah's, Rainbo Club, the California Clipper and Happy Village. I could really keep naming bars forever. Board games at Guthries Tavern in Lakeview is a favorite as well.

The Music Box - There are many movie theaters in Chicago that I love but for a visitor, the Music Box is the best. The theater plays Godard films, midnight showings of Jurassic Park, Sound of Music sing-a-longs, and other foreign films and cult classics. It touts itself as "the year round film festival", hosts a live organist at some showings, and was Roger Ebert's favorite.

Museum of Mexican Art - The Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen is a nice contrast to the modern, white walls of the Art Institute. Though its a small neighborhood art museum, it hosts impressive exhibits. An added plus is that afterwards, you can wander down 18th Street for pupusas, cheap tacos, Mexican hot chocolate or take a walk through the neighborhood to look at the murals that line its side streets.

Devon St. - Devon Street is a ten block stretch of Indian, Pakistani, Iraqi restaurants and shops. It's a wonderful example, as one of my professors said, of a non-gentrified, thriving commercial corridor full of languages and aromas. For my birthday last year, I came here with friends for a dinner and bought a mortar and pestle that sits in my kitchen, beautiful and unused. 

Chicago Neighborhoods - Chicago is broken up by neighborhoods, with each one deviating a little from the next. Head to Wicker Park for a strip full of record stores, book stores, and vintage clothes. Logan Square has amazing bars and restaurants (I recommend Lula Cafe for brunch and Longman and Eagle for dinner). Andersonville feels like a quaint Michigan town and Pilsen, noted before, has wonderful murals and Mexican restaurants and cafes. I spend most of my time in those four neighborhoods but Chicago is big and endless so there's a lot to explore.

Here's to hoping you do.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

I've been meaning to a do a house update with photos of my new apartment since I decided to stay and move in after almost a year of changing, tentative plans. But I left my camera battery at home a few weekends ago and am still awaiting it in the mail. Oh well, until next time.

Since August, my weekends have been full. I went to a street festival one weekend to see Gaby Moreno live, traveled to New York City to celebrate my sister's 30th birthday, and volunteered at the NPH fundraising gala, among other things. When I'm not running around, I'm settling in, working on house projects (thrifting, painting, setting up a worm compost) or cooking (blueberry crumble, apple-cinnamon-cardamom pancakes, huge pots of rice and beans).

I'm always divided. Sometimes I want to minimize my belongings so I can up and travel at any moment and other times, I think there is something magical about staying still. I talk a lot about living away from the city but in the summer, with some greenery, it's not so bad. Right now my apartment is full of hand-me-downs and thrift store finds but for the first time, I've also been able to start collecting household items (glasses, plates, mugs, crock pots, artwork, blankets - although all still secondhand). I hope that this time they'll make their way with me from place to place.

Having a place of my own after a couple years of instability does lead me to over-think, daydreaming about taking the little savings I have and going across the border to Michigan, where town populations are nil and land is cheap, to buy a house to fix up. I could afford it; I'd have acreage and access to undisturbed lake shore; I'd be a few hours away from Chicago when need be. But life usually makes more sense in the city being that it has access to jobs so most likely, one day I'll probably just transition to Andersonville, the slightly yuppier version of my neighborhood. 

Neither plan sounds bad but then again, why daydream and plan for the future when right now I can have a glass of wine in my backyard among sunflowers in full bloom? 

Pictured above: the Rockaways in New York City; my back porch