Monday, March 30, 2009

one week till africa

That's right. One week from today I will be embarking on my dream trip to partake in my dream job. Ever since my friend, Okado, showed our third grade class a video of him playing soccer in Kenya with his cousins, I've dreamed of going to Africa. Yes, technically I've been to the continent before during my brief weekend in Tangiers, Morocco, but this is different.

At first I was admittedly a little nervous about picking up and leaving for a month. I've gotten too attached to my daily routine and too attached to the dogs I walk. But then I reminded myself, that that is exactly why people need to travel--to break out of their bubbles. And here's what really put me over the edge: I was listening to the radio early this morning while driving into the city from my parent's house. And the DJ asked listeners to call in with their opinions about whether there should be a salary cap on people, like athletes and actors and CEOs, who make over a million dollars a year.
"Joe from Oak Lawn" called in and said, "America is all about making money. That's why we're here!" And in that moment I realized why I need to get out of here. We may be the "richest nation in the world," which isn't even true, seeing as we're in debt to everyone and have a terrible economy, but I don't think that those are or should be the ideals of our country. I think that what is more important than making money is helping people who are less fortunate than ourselves. And it got me really excited to have the opportunity to join forces with surgeons and filmmakers and doctors to help fight against the Malaria epidemic in one of the most remote parts of Africa, along Lake Tanganyika. For more information, you can check out the Lake Tanganyika Floating Health Clinic website HERE and download the malaria net initiative proposal.

The past few weeks, as I walk my dogs, I keep noticing things that I don't usually notice because they're things I, and most people, take for electrical lines, the radio, my van. I keep noticing these things because I know they're things I'm not going to have for an entire month. And I'm excited about that. Makes life interesting.
I look forward to meeting the cast of The Lion King while there, but I (unfortunately) learned my lesson a few days ago, regarding wild animals. My hand got massively attacked, both gashed and bitten, by a house cat, completely unprovoked. After I got over cursing the cat and cleaning the blood off my throbbing hand, I decided to look at this as a good thing too have happened before I go into the land of wildcats. Knowing me, I probably would have attempted to hug a lion cub. Now that I've seen what a small house cat can do, I will be sure to stay a safe distance from all wild animals while I'm there.
Except giraffes.

Stay tuned...because I'm going to try and post a few times while there.
Until then...keep it real.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


My freshman year of college my dad sent me an article he cut out of the Tribune about Found Magazine and attached a Post-It on which he wrote: "This sounds like your bedroom."
Turns out he was pretty accurate in that statement. While some may define treasure as diamonds and gold, I revel in marginalia and ephemera. I love finding notes people wrote, whether they lie hidden in the pages of a novel or on a found piece of paper crumpled on the street. I love imagining the person behind the handwriting, what they were thinking and marveling (and a lot of times laughing) at their choice of words.

Recently, while out dog-walking, I found two things worth sending in to "Found" if I ever get around to it.
The first is a note I found in a crate in an alley off of Crystal Street, just East of Damen. I blurred out the last name mentioned. [click the images to read]
The next treasure I found a few days ago lying, white side up, on a patch of grass on Maud. I thought it was funny enough to pick up and it turned out it got even funnier on the cardboard side. It was an art pad with no pages.
["Give Me My Money NOW" "You said that you was gonna give me money in the morning."] ["You are bad! You are sad.
Phillip Carter
When are you giveing me
my moeony big fat man
You get nothing
Yes I do Dont say that
--big Head
Phillip Jason Carter
You are A Faty"]

And just for kicks, I thought I'd finally scan a map--of our DRIVEWAY--my dad once left on our kitchen table for a neighbor who was house-sitting. Although it's technically not a "found object," it's one of my favorites, a prized possession if you will.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

remembering 5 years ago

Five years ago I was midway through my semester abroad in Madrid, when I woke up to hearing my Señora frantically talking to my roommate, Lisa, in her kitchen. All I could pick up on was the word "bombas." I figured I must have heard wrong, that surely I would have known if bombs had exploded. I figured wrong, I learned a few minutes later.

I just dug up my journal from that international time in life and below is what I wrote on that day. Although I sound disconnected from the events, the repercussions ended up being eerily similar to those of 9/11. I still seem to involuntarily shiver any time I enter a train or train station and my brain automatically assumes one or the other is going to explode. Comes with the territory, I suppose.

"March 11, 2004. Exactly 2.5 years, to the day, after experiencing the worst terrorist attack in the U.S., I just lived through the worst terrorist attack in Spain. It's remarkable how similar the two days started was like de ja vu. Around 8 a.m. I woke up with a bad stomach ache and went to the bathroom. I was so mad that I was awake cause my alarm was set for 10, that when my Sñra knocked on my door soon after I reentered my room, I ignored her. Even when she frantically said, "Alyse?!" three times, I pretended to be asleep. At 10 my alarm rang and about 5 minutes later Lisa came home. I heard her talking to Sñra in the kitchen and then she came into our room.
"Bombs exploded in Atocha Station, most likely ETA terrorists."
I was going on day-5 of my constant headache and my stomach was still upset. I crumpled onto my bed, still holding the hot pink pills, and stared up at the ceiling.
"Why?" is all I could think of to say.
"Probably because elections are this week," Lisa said.

The flashbacks began. Brianna coming into our room freshman year--"A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center!" I decided to go to school despite the news, mostly because I needed a computer. Skipped my shower and breakfast, wore my glasses. When I went out to the bus stop, I took my phone out to text message Sheri since it was 3:30 a.m. back home. As I started my phone rang like I had a message. So I stopped typing and listened. My mom, as usual, woke up and read online about the bombs before I had a chance to call home. She was hysterical, telling me to call her asap even though it's the middle of night. So I called her back right away and she couldn't stop crying. I felt really bad.
When I got to school I sent out a mass e-mail letting people know I was okay, since most were still sleeping. Then, for part of Spanish class time, we had a "news briefing," but I don't remember most of what they said. Walking onto the patio I had lost my balance and scraped my elbow really hard against the rough wall. So that hurt and was bleeding and I was just in such a daze.
I felt bad for Raquel (Spanish teacher) because she said something like, "I don't even know if all my friends are alive. I don't want to teach grammar." So, for awhile, we talked and then, because NYU sucks and wouldn't let her end class, we learned the words for body grossly ironic as that is.

The rest of the day was very unlike 9/11. Yeah I saw some news coverage on TV, but it wasn't like NYC where I then ran to the window and watched it in person. And there was no suffocating smell. And the weirdest thing was the city seemed to function as normal.
On September 11, I walked down FIFTH AVENUE and nothing was going on. The whole day I had horrible flashbacks of 9/11 and selfishly that's what disturbed me most. I feel very detached from what happened here. I am just baffled that I've now lived through two terrorist attacks...unreal. When I got off the bus and walked to school, "Ooo child, things are gonna get easier..." came on my CD and I thought, I really don't think they are and was overwhelmed by survivor's guilt for the third time. I mean seriously, what is the point of life? Nothing makes sense. One could argue--love. But usually that's about as non-sensical as you can get and your lover just ends up dying too...

It's always been strange to think back at the things that happened the day or night before something like this happens. For instance, the night before in my cities class, my teacher passed around a special edition of "Time" magazine dedicated to why "SPAIN ROCKS," why it's become such an amazing and innovative country. Then, when I left, I was waiting at the bus stop and there was bad traffic because of the Real Madrid vs. Germany soccer game. There was a young girl watching two cars slowly roll by, decorated with politician faces and megaphones playing music and declaring the possible presidents' stances. And, I don't know why, but I thought--"If suddenly these cars were shot down, like JFK style, when I got around to finding words to describe what happened, I would write from that girl's perspective."
After dinner (on 3/10) I talked to both my mom and sister on the phone. My mom excitedly announced, "9 days!" and when I talked to Sheri I was like, "Are you so excited to come here?!" She was."

"...At dinner Maria told us the bombs were from Al Queda, not ETA. I almost threw up on the table...I wish I would have been here this weekend to join the protests [I was in Paris] and vigils and take pictures...yesterday were the elections, Zappatero won, the Socialist party...apparently public opinion changed overnight...this should be a slap in the face to Bush as far as supporting the war against Iraq...or so I hear..."

I remember going to view the memorials a week or so later and thinking, "Man, this is like 9/11 in Spanish." I remember seeing a drawing that a kid made with markers of a train on fire and dead stick people lying on the ground. I was so overwhelmed, that I penned a letter to Joey back home. I recently found out he never received any of the letters I sent him while I was there, which still blows my mind, but as I've been paging through my journal, I've found multiple excerpts from those letters that I transcribed as entries for myself.
So, in closing, here's another entry:

"excerpt from 3/19 letter to Joey:
...How do you possibly explain to a child the terrible things that happen in our world...that there are people who will ruthlessly blow up cities without an ounce of remorse. Last summer I worked with this guy Tim who was the most negative person I've ever met. He hated everything except cigarettes and soup. On more than one occasion he mentioned hating kids, but I distinctly remember him saying once why he would never have his own--because he wouldn't want to 'subject another human to this fucked up world.' At first I just rolled my eyes, but later I actually found myself thinking about what he said and that maybe had a valid point. I thought of that today when I was looking at that kid's picture. I guess it's just another one of those 'what ifs...' or 'why bother...' thoughts. What if I had a kid and he/she ended up a victim of senseless violence? Or what if I didn't have a kid because I was scared, but he/she would have been able to change the world? Why bother letting yourself fall in love when it might end in heartbreak? Because as cliche as it sounds, nothing is for certain and every day should be lived how you want it. I don't know why I'm still here after all that has happened around me--survivors guilt times two--but since I am, I hope I can someday die knowing that I've positively impacted at least one life...I think that is probably the purpose of life--to help others live and love."

Sunday, March 8, 2009

the soundtrack to "soundtrack"

I pride myself in having quite an eclectic collection of music. My itunes library has just under 7,000 songs, and if I was to import ALL of my CDs, I'm pretty sure I could probably boost that number up closer to 8,000. Ranging from Bessie Smith to Outkast to Amalia Rodrigues to Bob Dylan to Andrew Bird to Brittney Spears to Talking Heads to Run DMC to Dixie Chicks, you get the idea.

So when Abbi proposed going to see a two-man improv show at Second City's Skybox theater (a smaller room than their famous mainstage) that revolved around putting an audience member's ipod on shuffle, I enthusiastically said I'd go. I also was pretty adamant about insisting I wanted "a-pod" (the name of my ipod) chosen. Even during the ride to the show, while driving six passengers in my van (yes! owning a minivan in the city finally served a purpose!), I still thought it was beyond a good idea for my music to be the soundtrack to "Soundtrack."

It wasn't until we were sitting front and center that I started to get nervous--mostly that obscure tracks would come on, like Hebrew rap or Amy's Answering Machine--but also that I'd be judged by a bunch of people for my taste (or lack thereof) in music, just as I would have judged whoever ultimately got chosen. So when Tom Blandford and Mark Piebenga walked on stage and announced that this was their last show and, "Before we get started, we'll need an ipod from someone in the audience," I totally second-guessed my initial confidence and didn't raise my hand. My friends and sister immediately yelled, "ALYSE! RAISE YOUR HAND!" In response, I did the timid I-don't-actually-want-to-be-volunteering-myself-right-now raising of my hand only to shoulder height. Because I was sitting so close, one of the actors saw my ipod sitting on the table and despite first pointing out that someone's hand "shot up" in the back, chose me. As soon as I handed over my ipod, I slunk down a few inches in my seat, already regretting my decision.

Just as I feared, neither I nor anyone else in the room knew the first song. I guess this made their stage presence all the more humorous, but I felt my face growing hot and was glad no one could see me. "What is this, Alyse?" I heard Lisa, who's friends with one of the actors, ask from the row behind me. I turned around and said, "I have no idea."
Somehow he turned those interpretive dance moves into a skit about being obsessed with roller derby, and that theme carried throughout most of the hour-long show. The rest of the songs chosen at random, which served as interludes where the actors improv-danced between skits, went as followed:

2) "Not Ready To Make Nice" by the Dixie Chicks
3) "Ballad of John & Yoko" by The Beatles
4) some instrumental song that sounded familiar and foreign that I couldn't quite place
5) "Hard Knock Life" from Annie (of which more than one person later said to me, "I was totally expecting it to be the Jay-Z version, but nope, it was from the actual musical..." I totally forgot about Jay-Z's rendition of that.)
6) "Play With Fire" by The Rolling Stones
7) "Jai Ho" by A.R. Rahman from the "Slumdog Millionaire" soundtrack
8) "Wind Cries Mary" by Jimi Hendrix
9) "Burnin' Love" by Elvis
10) "Opposites Attract" by Paula Abdul
11) "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" from "Mary Poppins"...I lost it laughing when this came on. Could you think of a more potentially embarrassing selection??
12) some song by Led Zeppelin I didn't know by name

Ben tapped me on the shoulder towards the end and said, "So Oldies or Soundtracks, huh?"
"Pretty much," I replied, laughing.

All in all it was hilarious, and the actors both thanked me at the end for the "awesome" songs. Not so sure "awesome" would be the right word to describe that particular collection, but as long as they were satisfied, I felt fine about it. I wish now, for humor's sake, that something from "Fiddler On The Roof" and/or "The Lion King" had also made an appearance.

What would your soundtrack be? Put your ipod or itunes on shuffle and write down the first 12 songs.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

another reason i want to be a writer

I know I've already posted twice before about Writers Week, but it just never fails to be magical and calming--to the point where I'm so grateful to be immersed in spoken word again that I feel on the verge of tears standing in the shadows watching these word-wizards speak.
It happened to be that the only hour I could attend Writers Week this year coincided with three of my favorite former English teachers (and it turned out the other two were also in attendance) were reading. Perfect timing.
Afterward, I got to listen to most of Chuck Perkins' electric performance of his N.O.L.A.-centric poems, complete with a jazz band and Indian drummers, who danced around in elaborate costumes full of colors and feathers.

Because I haven't written much in the way of poetry lately, I am going to post two of my new favorite poems. The first was copied into a handmade journal by my friend's mom and it's one of those pieces I wish I would have written myself. I just learned the title and author by Googling the first line.
And the second poem, "Parallel Universe," was written by my cousin, Ellyn Maybe, who I'm proud to say, makes her living as a real-life poet. She recently shared a link to a magazine that published this poem. I love it because I can relate to how I feel like I could never live without music and how some people just don't get it.



Keep me from going to sleep too soon
Or if I go to sleep too soon
Come wake me up. Come any hour
Of night. Come whistling on the road.
Stomp on the porch. Bang on the door.
Make me get out of bed and come
And let you in and light a light.
Tell me the northern lights are on
And make me look. Or tell me clouds
Are doing something to the moon
They never did before, and show me.
See that I see. Talk to me till
I'm half as wide awake as you
And start to dress wondering why
I ever went to bed at all.
Tell me the walking is superb.
Not only tell me but persuade me.
You know I'm not too hard persuaded.

~Robert Francis

Parallel Universe

Sometimes I wonder if there are one million people
listening at the same time
to the same Leonard Cohen song.
The one that keeps people from killing themselves.
It's a long playing record
It's a long song

Where do people play each other the songs that will keep them
when one foot in front of the other is more myth than practice?

I once tried to play Beware of Darkness by George Harrison for a
cause its beauty and pain were singular at that moment and
I wanted to share
I wanted to hear as close as we could the same thing and
make of it what we would

He said he heard that song when it first came out and ran out
to smoke a cigarette
We lost something in that moment

I listen to music alone, but I imagine there are sharp notes
bending the backs of the universe into more flexibility, more love,
more tenderness, more a capella chiropractors

Somebody is strumming 3 basic cords and
somebody will live through the night.

~Ellyn Maybe