Browsing articles in "Adventures"
Feb 13, 2013

Happy New Year…Again


I believe very strongly that you are what you do, not what you aspire to do. This sounds like a bad self-help book, but let me explain.

If I introduced myself to you as Jesse, a musician, you would probably, politely, ask me what instrument I play. Oh, I don’t really play anything, I’d reply. I’d like to play something. Sometimes I think very hard about how I’d like a guitar. Maybe I’ll even buy one and take lessons one day. I imagine the conversation would get uncomfortable at this point, and we’d start talking talking about the weather.

You are what you make time to do right now. You are what you prioritize. When I was little, I read books every spare minute I could. I was a reader. Do you know what makes me a reader now? That I read books. Not that I did read books 20 years ago. That I read books now.

I’m not trying to make any grand statements about identity and what it means. That’s above my pay grade. There is more to you than what you do, obviously. What I am trying to say is that if I call myself a writer, but spend all my free time organizing my cabinets because I’m too scared or too intimidated to sit down and write, then I’m not a writer, I’m a person with these great gray shelf liners that really pull my mismatched mugs together. (For real. It’s so orderly in there.)

I also don’t mean that it’s wrong to have more than one thing going on, or that it’s wrong to be in a season of life that changes your priorities or moves them out of your control. I do think that you need to be honest with yourself about why your priorities are different and if they’re really out of your control. Of course, when I say “you,” I mean “me.”

Today a friend asked me how often I write. I rounded the number up and then hid under my keyboard.

January was a stupid month. It was supposed to be a blank slate: Roommate moved back home, 2013 began, and I had a fresh start. I was going to get things done. Instead, I watched a lot of StarTrek. I was sick for a good chunk of the month, and for the rest I felt like a failure relationally, emotionally, professionally, spiritually, domestically, financially, automobily. Some things were not my fault (my car needed a new axel!), some things were (I backed into a parked car!).

I’m not totally sure what January being a dumb month has to do with being what you do, but I do know that I’m tired. I feel like a failure and like I can’t handle this stuff on my own. Like this might be what it feels like to learn humility and to depend on Christ and I don’t like it one bit.

I can’t changes my circumstances, but I can change how I respond to them. I can understand my limits. I can learn. Anne Lamott likes to say that you can start a new 24-hour period any time you like. I want to say that I’m going to apply that to my year, but not in a way that means I get a blank slate. Consequences are okay. I need to learn what I’m learning. I can’t do this by myself and I wasn’t made to. What I want is to drive a stake in the ground to mark the time when I stopped hiding and stopped moping. To take this 45 day period for what it was, and keep trudging. To do what I must do. Happy New Year. Carry on.

Jan 4, 2013

Capital-R Resolutions

This is what my to do lists look like. Except this one doesn't have anything on it because the year is just starting. It's probably symbolic.

I’ve said it before: I am not big on Resolutions.

I don’t like capital-R-Resolutions because I spend so much of my time making up everyday resolutions (the small ones like eat better, exercise, get enough sleep) that I can’t keep that the idea of making and breaking a Big, Important Resolution is frightening.

I am in a constant state of attempted self-improvement. Somewhere in a description of my particular Myers-Briggs* profile, it says that INFJs “constantly define and re-define the priorities in their lives” and “put a lot of energy into finding the best system for getting things done.” Imagine, if you will, trying to find the best system for accomplishing a constantly changing set of priorities. It’s not just trying to hit a moving target, it’s trying to design a prettier target while wearing roller-skates.

Because I know that I have this weakness for trying to be better, I usually avoid making big goals. The small ones take up enough brainspace, thank you very much. For the last two years, my Big Goals and Capital-R Resolutions have been very general: Have More Adventures, Be Less Afraid, Read More Books. These are very good resolutions; I’ve had two very good years. I’ve traveled on my own and with others. I’ve met and loved lots of new people and I’ve learned that sometimes friendships need to end. I’ve learned how to read again, and I’ve had so many good conversations.

Like I said: these are good. Maybe I needed two years of these inward, almost selfish goals so that could I learn how to belong to myself. Now those goals hardened into character traits and I need to move forward.

So, I’d like to announce that 2013 is The Year of Getting Stuff Done. (I don’t mean that this is a year dedicated to the David Allen book. Although, I imagine that might help.)

What does this mean, exactly? This means I’m going to do what I say I will do. I will answer emails and finish blog posts. I will get enough sleep to be able to function as a real human. I will eat like a grown up. I will stop confusing myself with changing goals and shifting priorities and I will focus on what I really need and want. I will do the things I must do, even if they are in the morning and even if that morning is on a weekend.

I know. This is some serious shoot.

OH. I almost forgot. I’m also gonna get a cat. It’s time. That means either have to talk my landlords into letting me have one or move out of my cute little apartment. I know. That means I want a cat more than I want to stay in the apartment I’ve spent the last two years cutifying. I told you this was serious.

In sum, this year I will get:

1) stuff done.

2) a cat.

This is going to be a busy year.

*I’ve spent a lot of time this year thinking about Myers-Briggs profiles. It’s done quite a bit in helping me understand myself and other people. If you don’t know your type, I highly recommend figuring that out. Here’s a link to a test, but I haven’t taken this particular one and can’t vouch for the results.


Nov 2, 2012

Roommates Assemble! Or Disassemble…Whatever.

The Roommate is out of town for a few days.

This means that I have to pull all my “living alone” skills out of corner of the attic where I’ve been keeping them since she came along.  I’m listening to music without headphones and without guilt. I’m back to saying “hello” and “good-bye” to my apartment when I come and go. I’m vacillating between frozen dinners or an overly elaborate crock-pot stew for the weekend. I’ve got a new audiobook for doing dishes to. Heck, I’m even going to do the dishes.

Last time the Roommate was gone for a few days, she went to ComicCon. Not to be outdone superhero-wise, I invited the Cap and Thor to hang out here with me. I’ve recorded our activities here for posterity.


Thor said the stringy Swiss cheese reminded him of his flowing locks. Cap insisted on calling it “freedom onion soup.”


Captain America believes in safety first. Thor believes our roads “lack pizzazz.”


I had no idea Mjølner was so good for pressing difficult collars.


 Thor said that weather-controlling demigods don’t need to wear dish-washing gloves. This kind of hurt Cap’s feelings.


The pizza, of course, made our strict fitness regimen all the more important.



Oct 5, 2012

In Which I Reward Myself for Surviving a Second Year

Ya da da dAAA! *musical interlude* *curtain rises*

Welcome, welcome, welcome to the second annual post in which I reward myself for surviving a year as a grown up. Each year, I try to set aside some time to pat myself on the back for not completely failing at being an adult.

Two years ago today Wednesday, I moved into my own little apartment. This was shortly after getting my firsts real grown up job and shortly before calling my mother in a panic because there was a bug in my apartment and would some one please come and remove it?


I do very well with award-based systems. I like concrete rewards for a job well done. (You should see my box of Awana trophies.) One thing I noticed when I hit adulthood was that you stop getting things like stickers as rewards. Instead you get intangible things like “self-respect” and “confidence” and “not being evicted from your apartment.” That’s dumb. I want stickers.

Since I have now spent a total of 732 days living on my own, I thought I should give you an update.


Last year, we covered a wide variety of grown up activities, including such diverse topics as Customer Service Purgatory and Baby, It’s Character Building Outside. This year, we have a full round of awards, but for the most part, they’re in different categories. (It’s like I’m growing as a human being or something.)

This year, I performed honorably in the following categories and earned the following rewards:

The My Love for Minnie Mouse Does Not Extend to Other Mice award

Make Love, Not Mouse Poops

By far, my greatest trial this year was my mouse infestation. I became a prisoner in my own home. The war waged was dramatic. I used traps, chemicals, and prayer. The wee mouses? Their weapons were more psychological. And also they ate a whole bag of chocolate chips. Who won this war? Currently, we’re at a stalemate. They recently threatened me with a can of tomato paste.

Next year I hope to go for the No One Lives in My Apartment Unless They Contribute to the Rent award.


The Looks Like I’ll Have to Import Someone from the Internet award

Our Balanced Diet. You know, as grown ups.

I lived all by myself for just over a year. Throughout that year, I developed the habit of calling Twitter my roommate. I made Twitter pay attention to me when I was bored. I watched television with Twitter. Sometimes I sang to Twitter. It was only appropriate, then, when I actually got a roommate, that I got her from Twitter.

Roommate, as I call my roommate, is great. We live in this harmonious world where we share a room and trade meal-making duties and she shakes her head at me whenever I refuse to watch a movie that wasn’t written by Nora Ephron.

Next year I’m going for the Whoops! Austin Disappeared! Guess You’ll Have to Stay in Chicago! award. Don’t tell Roommate that it’s a hoax.


The It’s a Bed with a Ladder–You Can’t Beat That! award

Hullo down there! My bed sways in the wind! Like a skyscraper!

You may remember that I live in a tiny apartment. You may wonder how I fit myself and my new roommate into this apartment. Here is how: loft beds. A loft bed is like a bunk bed, but instead of a bottom bunk, there’s a space to store your stuff. Instant room-for-roommate. The only drawback is that if you live in an older apartment, you might only have eight-foot ceilings. Loft beds, at least the ones from Ikea, really need ceilings that are at least nine feet high. This means that you might never be able to sit up in your bed again, and getting in and out of it every day is sort of like that one scene from Entrapment only even more ridiculous.

Upon setting up your too-tall loft bed in your too-short apartment, you might sit down and cry a little bit because you’re 26 and you thought sitting up in your bed was a given and you’ve just spent four hours setting up that stupid loft bed and you haven’t eaten dinner yet, so your roommate suggests Chipotle and you arrive just before closing and Chipotle gives you free chips and salsa and suddenly the whole world is brighter and Catherine Zeta Jones is kinda ok, too.

Let’s not bring up the two dozen cans of spray paint it took to make the loft beds look less like prison furniture. At least not without a Chipotle run first.



Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor. (I'm so totally worthy.)

I’ve said this before: when I was little, I went to Harry Potter book release parties, but I didn’t dress up. When I said this, what I meant to convey was something like “Yeah, I’m a fan, but not a crazy weirdo who owns Hogwarts robes and and a custom wand.” This is because I didn’t want people to be able to guess how enthusiastic I was.

Here is what I am learning as a grown up: not only is enthusiasm not something to be ashamed of, it’s something to be celebrated. It’s also pretty contagious.

So when my roommate said she wanted to dress up for the premiere of The Avengers, I said “is that that one British show?” Then I said “Can we make our costumes out of cardboard and construction paper?” Then I gave an enthusiastic “yes.” It was a pretty fantastic night with two of my favorite people, and I got a few compliments on my GIANT HAMMER from some little girls who might just remember us when they’re older and trying to decide just how enthusiastic they want to be.

Oh, and I recently acquired a wand: 8 inches, holly. I keep it next to my sonic screwdriver.

Next year’s award? It’s the usual toss up between the award for “The Age of Not Believing is a Scam” and “Is that a TARDIS in My Backyard?”


The Reading Rainbow award

Take a look. In a book. Reading rainboooowwwwwwww...

Last year, I had something quite strange happen to me: I no longer enjoyed reading. It’s not that I didn’t have time to read, or that I didn’t read. In fact, according to GoodReads, I read 32 books in 2011. That’s not bad for someone who’s not enjoying herself. But in that whole year, I never found a book I connected with. I tried reading different genres and different formats, but I couldn’t shake my horrible book ennui.

I did get to say things like “book ennui,” though, so it wasn’t all bad.

There is more that I want to say on this subject, so I’m going to stop here and save my material, but I just wanted to say, glory hallelujah, I can read again.

Next year? I might set myself some sort of reading goal. Probably “I Can Read 50 Books!” Not because that’s a difficult number of books to read, but so that I can make Cool Hand Luke references all year long.


That’s all. Show’s over, folks. These things used to be longer but it’s hard to find sponsors and all the kids on the Internet don’t have attention spans like they used to. I’d like to thank everyone who made this year possible, including my parents, my sisters, the Roommate, my employer, the fine coffee roasters at Intelligentsia, Instagram, Twitter, people who shared baked goods, and you.


Once again, all award badges were drawn by me and run through an Instgram filter on my iPhone. We only use the highest forms of technology here on Staircase Wit the Blog.

Feb 9, 2012

City of the Big Shoulders

I went to New York City last week.

I didn’t like it.

To be fair, I hardly saw the place. I was there for a conference for work, so most of my time was spent at my hotel, attending conference sessions.

New York was absolutely nothing like a Doris Day movie, and it made me quite crabby.

I did notice one major thing while I was there, though.

I noticed that I really like Chicago.

So, as a small celebration of the city that I love, I thought I’d share a little homage to the city that I love best.

Whenever Chicago comes up in popular culture, one of two songs is chosen as the sound track, either Frank Sinatra singing “My Kind of Town“, or [someone] singing “Sweet Home Chicago“. Those are great songs. I’m not saying they’re not. I’m glad they exist. Etc. But do you know what? They weren’t written by Chicagoians. It was some guy from New York and another guy from Mississippi. I’m offended. Don’t you think if we (I’m talking to Chicagoians now) are going to be represented by an artistic work, it should at least be written by Chicagoians?

I know. I’m right.

So, I would like to present to you my favorite short piece of literature about Chicago. It’s not like it’s terribly obscure or anything. I just don’t think it gets the attention it deserves. Instead of copying and pasting the whole thing into my blog post, which smells a lot like stealing, I’m going to show you this video:

Vincent Price reads “Chicago” by Carl Sandburg. I know. Vincent Price. Neat.

You’ve probably heard it before. We’re pretty mainstream here at Staircase Wit the Blog. It’s “Chicago”, by Carl Sandburg, who was born in the suburbs and lived in the city as an adult. Don’t you just like it? It gives me just exactly the feeling I have when I step off the train at LaSalle and Jackson. The city has a rhythm that the first two songs just don’t capture. There is a heartbeat and a dichotomy that “that toddelin’ town” can’t explain. That’s why I like how Vincent Price reads the poem. At first I thought it might be sacrilegious to have a St. Louisian read it, but he was the only one on the whole of YouTube who didn’t read it like capital-P Poem. He reads it like he is telling you that Chicago is proud to be Hog Butcher, Freight Handler, Stacker of Wheat…

I love this poem.

Sure, Chicago is flawed. Sure, we have more corruption in our little finger than Michigan has in their whole mitten. But “[c]ome and show me another city with lifted head singing, so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.”

This post is getting sort of long and I haven’t even showed you the thing I wanted to show you.

Here. Go look at this picture of a baby otter and come back refreshed. I will eat chocolate-covered soybeans and re-read my poem and we’ll continue on when you’re ottered and ready.

Ready? Ok.

Now, here is the Thing that I Wanted to Show You. It’s a local artist. His name is Meng Yang. He has a store called Know Your Flag, which is full of Chicago-inspired art work. I met him at the Renegade Craft Fair last summer. I was looking for a particular Chicago-themed poster and thought it might come from his booth, which was full of Chicago-themed art, so I stopped by to ask him if he knew anything about it. The conversation went sort of like this:

Me: Do you have this poster?

Him: No. I bet lots of Renegade sellers have Chicago-themed art that they made just for this fair. I try to make Chicago-themed art that’s a little more meaningful and tied to the spirit of the city itself instead of just screen-printing the flag onto a t-shirt and calling it a day.

Me: How many children do you want?

Here is what was so exciting: his booth was full of posters based on the Sandburg poem.

I know. I freaked out. I mostly just looked at them all and flapped my hands and embarrassed Long-suffering Lorraine who was with me.

Here is my favorite:


It’s perfect, really. It is just exactly how I see Chicago. Stormy, husky, brawling. Can’t you just see the “City of Big Shoulders” embodied in the Sears Tower?

He has lots more, too: Player with Railroads, Stacker of Wheat, Hog Butcher for the World, Tool Maker. He has a series on Chicago neighborhoods, and one on each of the stars in the Chicago flag. There’s also one that I love on “Da Good” and “Da Bad” of Richard M. Daley’s rein. (In case you were wondering, I own this t-shirt, only girl-shaped.)

There was one poster that completely stumped me:

Me: I know that one. That’s the statue from the first World’s Fair.

Him: No, actually, that’s Miss Chicago. She was chosen to be the emblem of the city after the Chicago Fire, and she says “I Will” because the city vowed to rebuild and be better after the devastation.

Me: So do you want some sort of dowry agreement?

Let’s see. We’ve covered how I didn’t like New York, how Doris Day has let me down, how local people should sing songs about things which are local to them, how Vincent Price should read more poetry, how Carl Sandburg wrote my favorite poem about Chicago, how I make a fool of myself in public, and how people make amazing art about things they love. Oh, and how I love Chicago. I think that’s about all I wanted to do today.

By the way, this is a close runner-up to my favorite song/poem/thing about Chicago, but it’s a little newer and therefore not canonical.

Yup, I think that’s all.

Sep 22, 2011

Two Girls, a Mini, and some Thrift Stores

I apologize for the quality of these smartphone photos. I did that thing where I charged my camera battery, then I put it somewhere for “safe keeping”. If found, please send my camera battery to, c/o the Internet.

I recently gained a new neighbor.

Ok. That’s only a little true. However, Kate, one of my closest friends and favorite people from college, did just move from Texas to Michigan. I mean, really, if Illinois is the Land of Lincoln, and Michigan is shaped like a glove…it’s all very complicated and mathmatical. Just believe me. We’re neighbors.

To prove her neighborliness, Kate came to visit.

To prover her neighborliness even further, Kate brought me an ampersand. Heck. I love ampersands.

Ampersand Bookend! It's beautiful and practical!

And, of course I know it’s backwards. That was on purpose. To match the letterpress ampersands. Ahem.

I blame Kate for my current obsession with DIY blogs. She’s the one who introduced me to Young House Love, and she’s the one I send fevered text messages to when I don’t know if I should move my chair a little to the left or not. Since she just bought a new house, and I am trying to put the finishing touches on my little apartment, it was only appropriate that we spend the weekend thrifting and redecorating.


The estate sale was practically empty. It was the last day and every thing was half off. There were a few lamps and some hopefully priced silver pieces. We did a quick run through the house anyway, just because it had taken us so long to find the place. Kate and I, we are stubborn people. In the very back spare bedroom, leaning against the wall, was a 4ft by 3ft oil painting of a ship in a stormy sea. Kate was smitten. We looked at it for a long time. She said something about her husband not wanting more oil paintings.

“Kate,” I said. “How else will your kids will get to Narnia?”

“I was just thinking that.”

Fortunately, my Mini Cooper was made for haulin’.

He's so cute when he carries things.

Update: Kate posted better photos of the oil painting over at her cozy blog, Pomegranates and Pit Bulls.


We made a quick stop at my favorite furniture thrift store Jubilee. Jubilee supports a local mission, and they have taken over an old department store. It’s the size of your typical J.C. Penny’s, but full to the brim with gently used furniture. They give you cookies when you come in. Obviously, I’m there every weekend.

We were looking for end tables for Kate to make paint and epoxy magic with, but we didn’t find anything that was just right. I did find a little hobnail lamp for my bedside table, and I got to show Kate some midwestern hospitality when Jubilee’s proprietor showed up and greeted us with a big “Hi Jess!”

My hobnail lamp. I'll change out that shade eventually.


I particularly wanted to bring Kate to one of my new favorite stores, Gather and Collect. I love this place. It’s just a small storefront, but the store is so packed with vintage and upcycled goodness that we spent at least an hour doing laps around the store, making sure not to miss anything.

They had not one, but two clown costumes. Kate was less enthusiastic about this than I was.

Kate picked up a couple of hobnail glass dishes (now we’re hobnail friends), and I accidentally picked up an alcohol-proof tray. I may or may not have several of these. (I forgot to get a picture, but it looks sort of like this one.) I don’t know why I have this need to own alcohol-proof trays. It’s probably William Powell’s fault.


We spent a good part of the weekend getting some pictures framed and up on my poor bare walls, but I’m saving that for another post. It was an altogether lovely weekend. Old friends are hard to come by, and I’m so glad to have Kate back in the Midwest. Complicated mathematics or not, she’s my favorite new neighbor.


So, how about you? Any good thriftstore finds lately?

Aug 12, 2011

How I spent my Summer Vacation, Or, Oceans are Silly

Midwesterners enjoy the ocean just as much as everybody else does. We just choose to be more sensible about it than other people.  When we Midwesterners go to the ocean, we don’t get in an aeroplane and fly to west to California. We don’t pack our station wagon and head east to Maine. When Midwesterners go to the ocean, Midwesterners go north.

You may argue that the Great Lakes are not technically an ocean, and you are right. Technically. However, I am here to tell you that the Great Lakes are far superior (heh) to any ocean you have to compare them to.

1) Fresh Water

Water should quench your thirst. Water should not make you more thirsty. I think that’s in the Bible. “Salt water” is an oxymoron. If it isn’t, it should be.

Remember that time when you were eight, and you went to Myrtle Beach and you only brought one water bottle to share with your sisters, and you swam in the ocean and the salt water parched your little throat, and you drank the whole bottle of water, and told your mom that you were thirsty and wanted to go back to your hotel room but she said no, because you had just gotten to the beach and the hotel room was far away, and then she said that there’s no way that you could be thirsty because you were swimming in water?

I don’t remember that either. Must have been a weird dream. But anyway, salt water is completely counterintuitive and a sign of a fallen world.

2. Size

I love the idea of a great expanse of water, but eventually you have to apply the law of diminishing returns. I can stand on the shore of Lake Michigan and look out as far as I can see, and still feel the bigness of the world, but I can drive to the other side in a couple of hours. Conceivably, I could watch the sun come up on Oak Street Beach in Chicago, grab breakfast at La Sera, noodle around in Old Town for a few hours, and still make it to St. Joseph in time to buy some antiques and eat chicken salad* before watching the sun set over Silver Beach.

Oceans are inefficient.

3. Creatures

Now, I enjoy a cephalopod  as much as the next girl, but I like them in their proper place. On YouTube. I prefer my beach visits to be terrifying-creature free. Sure, oceans have dolphins and narwhals and other cuddly creatures. But they also have these. You know what the most pressing fish issue is in the Great Lakes? The Asian carp invasion. Yup, that droopy little face is the stuff of nightmares.

Did you know that innocent beach walkers have been known to step on jellyfish while waking on a coastal beach? You don’t even have to be in the water for the ocean to get you.

This is why you should visit the Great Lakes and leave the ocean to people with an unreasonable expectation of bigness and high saline tolerance.

All joking aside, oceans are nice to visit. I’ve seen two of them. I’m glad I did. But really, if I have to choose, I’m perfectly happy to spend a day on one of our pretty Midwestern beaches, that are near fresh water, of a reasonable size, and terrifying creature free.

That’s how I spent the first half of this week. It was wonderful, and restful, and I spent the whole time with my mom and sisters. I enjoy them more than just about anyone else in the world.  I’m feeling much more myself than I was a week ago.

St. Joseph Point Lighthouse

St. Joseph Point Lighthouse



Melissa and the Kite

Melissa and the Kite



Sunset on Silver Beach

Sunset on Silver Beach



*My free time is mostly spent eating soft foods and looking for antiques. I’m going to make an excellent old person.



Jul 8, 2011

Quiet Night on Diagon Alley

Wizarding tshirts

I usually describe my relationship with Harry Potter like this:  I went to the midnight book-release parties, but I didn’t dress up.

What I mean here is, I really like Harry Potter. I grew up with him. I started reading the series just as book two came out, and I read them all faithfully. Some of them four times.

However, to answer the question that my friend the imaginary P.G. Wodehouse character asked me on Twitter: No. I am not really a Harry Potter fangirl. (However, imaginary P.G. Wodehouse character, can you say irony-much?)

What I am is someone who loves books, and loves when people are excited about books, so I have loved being able to watch the HP excitement over the years. And participate whenever I can. I decided a few years ago that I can either stifle my excitement, feign boredom and let opportunities pass me by in the hopes of looking, I don’t know, cool? Or I could be myself and jump at the chance to have fun when it presents itself.

So when Marianne asked me how I felt about going to a wizard rock show, I jumped accordingly.

The show was an outdoor show in Lincoln Square (one of my favorite Chicago neighborhoods), and the wizard rock bands were Harry and the Potters and Diagon Alley. (That’s right. There is more than one Harry Potter tribute band.) I ended up there with Marianne and Marc, and my dear Lorraineo and her roommate met us there.

Now, even with my vows to be open-minded about these sorts of adventures, I was skeptical. I had only ever heard Harry and the Potters once, and I’m not someone who goes to shows, and I do still have that little niggling feeling of “Um, this is a Harry and the Potters tribute band, and you might end up looking silly” that bothers me sometimes.

Once again, I was reminded that that niggling feeling needs to be ignored at all costs. Seriously. Harry Potter. He sang. He climbed trees. There were children dancing and middle-schoolers wearing Luna Lovegood glasses. I bought a “ride the lightning” tshirt. So anyway, I guess this will be a continuing process, this whole “let go and have fun and enjoy yourself and stop freaking out over what people might think” thing. So I’m going to work on that, because life is so much more fun when I don’t stifle. In the mean time, you bet your shrieking mandrakes that I’m going to be at the midnight premiere of 7.2.

Marianne and I with Harry Potter. The power of love will keep us together forever.


Jul 1, 2011

Printers Row Lit Fest Recap


Ok. I know the PRLF was almost a month ago, so it’s a little late for a recap post, but we’ve already established that I’m a terrible blogger.

Last year, I attended the PRLF as a volunteer. (I recapped that experience here.) There was nothing about that day that wasn’t spectacular, but I really wanted the opportunity to choose the events I attended and to wander around when I wanted and to not wear a giant white tshirt that said GET LIT.

So. This year I brought Marianne. This is why Marianne is the perfect person to bring to the Lit Fest: as soon as we turned down Dearborn and Marianne saw the dozens and dozens of tents and the hundreds and hundreds of book people and hundreds of thousands of BOOKS, she turned to me and said, “Jesse. Jesse, I think this is the coolest thing I’ve ever been to in my life.”

And that’s why I love Marianne.

The first session we went to was a conversation between Elizabeth Stuckey-French, author of The Radioactive Lady and Elanor Brown, author of The Weird Sisters. This turned into an excellent conversation about what it’s like to be a woman author, and if women can write as well as men, and if there’s a difference between men and woman writers. (This was right after that whole Naipaul controversy.)  I had just read The Weird Sisters and wanted to get a chance to ask Brown a few questions, but Naipaul carried the conversation away, and no one called on me. It was very like high school in that way.

We went to a couple other sessions, but the other main highlight of the day was sort of an accident. A torrential downpour started about midway through the afternoon, and our choices were either to find an indoor event, or head home. We decided to try the poetry slam tent, and hoped that enough people chose the “head home” option so the tent wouldn’t be too crowded.

It was too crowded, but we went anyway.

Now, attending a poetry slam is a dream I’ve had since a poetry workshop I attended in high school. Let me tell you that I should have fulfilled this dream so much sooner.

Poetry slams are, as best I can tell, one part improv comedy, one part theater, one part spelling bee, and a few parts something amazing that I don’t have a category for. Basically, poets perform–not read, not recite, perform–their poems, are rated on a scale of one to ten, and compete for a prize of dubious value.

There was a level of electricity and excitement in that tent that I’m not sure how to get across. What I can tell you is that I spent the hour clapping and bouncing in my seat and hoping that Poetry Slam Day could be every day. New life goal: attend more poetry slams.

It was just such a good, full day. I felt like I had to walk around with my arms spread out just so I could hold in everything I was learning and seeing. There were so many perfect little details sprinkled in to the overall adventure, like the Eloiseian girls who live in a high-rise but dragged their tea-party table down to the sidewalk to sell $1 cups of lemonade, or the car-commercial-in-production that we stumbled into, or the street performing drummer who travels with his full drum kit, or the crazy midwestern storm that forced us inside, or meeting the author whose signing I missed because she took shelter from the storm in the same restaurant as we did so I could still get the book signed and also have a very short conversation about magical realism. See? It was just an arms-too-small-to-hold-all-this kind of day.


I encourage you to draw a big red circle around the first week of June and to plan on being at the Lit Fest. These sorts of events can only happen if people show up, and you should show up, because that’s how adventures happen.

If you’re looking for more information about the PRLF, here’s the official Chicago Tribune recap.

Here are some videos of a few of the sessions, but just FYI, these are from Book-TV, so they’re very interesting, but a little bit dryer than some of the other events at the fest.

If you want to know more about poetry slams, one of my favorite Chicago inventions, check out Chicago Slam Works. They ran the PRLF slam, and I think I have a crush on the entire organization.

Oh, and if you’re looking for letterpress letters, I suggest you check Etsy. But really, you should just do like I do and make them a yearly PRLF tradition.

Jun 3, 2011

In Honor of the Printers–Past, Present, and to Come…

A few weeks ago, I found myself at the only museum dedicated to stained glass in the country. My sisters and I were giving my mom a Louis Comfort Tiffany tour of Chicago for Mother’s Day, and the Smith Museum of Stained Glass at Navy Pier just happens to have a large collection. The Tiffany pieces are incredible. The man was a genius. If you ever have the opportunity, go see his work in person. Pictures can’t do the windows justice. Anyway. I loved the Tiffany, but my favorite piece at the museum was definitely this window, dedicated to Henry Oldendorf Shepard, a real-life Printers Row printer.

20110603-124503.jpgIt says:

In Honor of the Printers–Past, Present, and to Come–
The Multipliers of Recorded Thought,
Carrying Down the Centuries the Evidence of Man’s
Advancements in Knowledge–
The Heralds of Peace and Good Will–
The Conservators of Wisdom–The Antagonists of Error–
The Champions of Good Works–
The Glorifiers of Achievement–
The Preservers of Art, The Promoters of Culture.

I know that this about printers, not publishers, but this is exactly the reason that I wanted to go into publishing. This is the point. We’re the Multipliers of Recorded thought, the Conservators of Wisdom.

I keep a few printers blocks on my desk. It’s funny to think about how I just change some HTML code around and send a book out the door (or, rather, over the Internet), and these printers had to place each word or letter individually. Crazy. Anyway, these blocks are my reminder that no matter how the industry changes, the point is the message, not the medium. We make books, and that’s so much bigger than arguments over whether or not ereaders smell nice. We’re here preserve history and disperse ideas.

The other thing that I realized as I read this was that if I were a super hero, I’d want to be known as The Antagonist of Error. My symbole would be Æ. But that’s just a sidenote.

I’m headed to the Printers Row Lit Fest in Chicago this weekend, which I highly recommend. I’ll buy books and hear authors and generally have a wonderful time, but I’m also going to take a few minutes and think about good ol’ Henry, and how things haven’t changed very much at all.