24 July 2013

not far from your door

This morning, I ran outside before work, and it seemed that no one else in the world was awake yet. An exaggeration, of course, since in the whole world, it was all times at that moment. Somewhere, it was 7:45am and somewhere, it was 7:45pm, and at one point on my run, I'm sure it was 5 o'clock somewhere.

But in Glen Ellyn, it seemed that no one else was awake yet. I ran past the library, where a homeless man was asleep outside. What a shock it always is to see a homeless person—anywhere, yes, but it's particularly jarring in the affluent western suburbs. Surrounded by huge homes and private schools, it is easy—too easy—to forget that not everyone can just pop into Starbucks on a whim for a "special treat."

The man was sleeping sitting up, leaned back against the red brick of the library and surrounded by all his worldly possessions in various grocery bags and ripped backpacks.

This summer, the adult reading program is giving away an iPad Mini. You're entered in a drawing for every 5 books you read. But also for every 5 books, the library is donating to the Glen Ellyn Food Pantry, recognizing, I supposed, that needs sleeps not far from their door.

23 July 2013

finally, i've made it to the 21st century. it's not too bad here.

I have lived alone for 8 years, and that entire time, I have lived without the Internet at home.

To some people, that's like saying I lived without running running. In this day and age, the Internet is one of those expected utilities, like electricity; you assume everyone in your very first-world life has it.

Oh, I could pretend it was for some high and mighty reason, such as:
We live constantly tethered to this invention of our, this thing that spews information at us so we rarely have to tax our brains to remember who starred in that one movie from 1998 {let alone more important information, like how the 3 branches of government interact}. We're rarely without an opportunity to connect to others, but ironically, this has made us more disconnected. With the proliferation of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and even your run-of-the-mill blogs {ahem}, we have become curators of our digital lives, stopping too often in the midst of a conversation, concert, or meal to think: How would I be funny about this online?

I decided not to get the Internet at home because I wanted to give myself the ability to disconnect. To engage with real life and not allow that stream of information to become a roaring, raging flood filling every corner of my mind. I needed a break from this very modern world.
Now that sounds like a reason for avoiding the Internet {also: it sounds like a thesis possibility}.

But here's my real reason:

Frugal is a better way to put that. It makes me sound wise and careful, but when it comes down to it, I just didn't want to pay for something that I could get for free by walking across the street to the library.

{Please note: This argument breaks down when it comes to books. I know I can get them for free at the library, too, but I get a thrill out of underlining in books, and librarians do not get a thrill out of that. My cheapness is overruled by a fear of getting in trouble with a librarian.}

This cheapness, by the way, is the same guiding virtue that has led me to keep my brother's bike that I inherited, in the way that youngest children often inherit things—it's the bike he had when he was 13 or so. He is now 45, making the bike essentially the same age as me. Maybe we should start celebrating our birthdays together.

That bike is heavy, let me tell you, compared to any bike made today, even the cheap-o ones sold at Wal-Mart. But it still works; why upgrade when this bike is perfectly functional?

That's my reasoning influenced by cheapness, and I'd say it's solid.

By this same reasoning, I also still own {and wear} tank tops from 6th grade. {This tell you 2 things: 1) My mom bought me good quality clothes, and 2) I haven't grown since I was 12.}

So why pay for the Internet at home, especially when I'm on a computer all day at work? You very quickly reach a saturation point of staring at a screen when you do it for a living.

However, over the past few months, I have reached a saturation point with going to the library. It's mostly because of laziness. {Boy, I'm really highlighting my good qualities here.}

By the time I get home from work and working out, I just want to change into my pj's, pour a glass of wine, and snuggle with my pug. Even the thought of walking down the block, finding a spot in the library, and logging on—not to mention that I can't do any of that in my pj's—sounds tiring.

Also, every time I left home in search of the Internet, I felt a lot like an early 20something, although of course they all have the Internet these days. It'd be more accurate to say I felt like a 20something from a different age, back when Internet cafes existed and waistlines on pants were laughably higher.

I know. It's laziness, a desire to not appear like a character from an early episode of Friends, and a love of comfy clothes and alcohol that made me get the Internet.

And I'm never looking back. Or leaving my apartment.

17 July 2013

the only trick you'll ever need to get up early

I have discovered the secret to getting up early.

It is not to be a morning person, although that certainly helps.

I sometimes feel bad for those night owls who have t force themselves to crawl into bed at a reasonable hour because they know that they have to get up early for work.

If I were one of them, as I laid there trying to calm my breathing and convince my brain that it was sleepy time, I would be fuming at the general set-up of the world:
Why are morning people seen as the more productive go-getters, just because they rise with the sun? {Or before, depending on the time of the year.}

Why does work have to start so early? The majority of us are no longer farmers, so why do we insist on getting so much done in the morning? I don't care if I have to work in the heat of the day because I work in air conditioning.

Only children should go to bed so early.
But I am not a night owl, and I've never spent much time considering how unfair the world must seem to someone who hits their stride at oh, say, 1am. Perhaps this is an opportunity to work on my walk-a-mile-in-their-shoes skills.

There for real is a hormone that plays a role in determining if you like to get up early or stay up late. {I used to be a medical writer, so I'm like a former fake doctor; you can trust me on medical stuff.} Those poor night owls whose bodies are conspiring against them. As with many things in life {acne, mood swings, fat that won't go away}, they should just blame their hormones.

The world is indeed biased toward people like me, but I will admit: even for a person like me, my new wake-up time of 4:30 can seem awfully close to the middle of the night.

So here is my secret—the trick that makes 4:30 into a normal, why-not-get-up-now time:
Drink a glass of water as soon as you get up.

I read this somewhere years ago {so long ago, in fact, that I can't remember where, although it sounds like something that would be in Real Simple}, and it really works.

More than putting your alarm clock across the room or setting multiple alarms, this glass of water thing works.

At first, it works because who can imagine going back to bed after standing up long enough to drink a whole glass?

You can successfully trick your body into waking up; you can start drinking that water half-asleep and by the time you get to the end of that glass, you're thinking, “Good morning, world! I love you! What do you have for me today?”

After a week or so of tricking your body, you'll find that you're 1) waking up craving water, and 2) already awake when you start drinking. You will have become someone who can get up at 4:30, ready for the day.

I don't really know why or how this works, this trick that gives you the strength to overpower a very strong desire to hit snooze.

Does it re-program your hormones? Is it all psychological? Does the fact that you wake up thirsty simply mean you should be drinking more water the day before {even if you're sure you're drinking enough}? Will the glass of water effect eventually wear off, leading you to drink a gallon?

I don't know, and at 4:30 when I bounce from bed, thirsty for the day, I don't care. A glass of water, it works, reminding me that sometimes, it's the simplest things that make life easier.

15 July 2013

how the day will go {a poem}

Until that moment, all I heard were my own footsteps,
my running shoes hitting the gravel path
with an encouraging crunch that said:

It was pre-dawn,
and running east towards the edge of a pink-red line just curving in the sky,
I did a hop-skip-and-a-jump in celebration
of such glorious isolation:
a run alone for an introvert is rejuvenation,
as soul-healing as a talk with a good friend.

My day would go the way of the morning sun: up.
I knew that much as I listened to my feet on the path.

And then in that moment, all I heard was a scampering,
5 bloated raccoons crawling across the gravel path
with a conniving crunch that said:
there are more of us than you.

I leaped over the final coon, who
must've underestimated my introvert speed.
Looking down, I saw his beady, glinting, ringed eyes glaring up,
an accusation of trespassing as his lips curled back over his teeth.

It was then I realized: I never know how my day will go.
And to pretend otherwise is an incredible act of daring,
one we all seem capable of in the early morning light
until we're reminded that
we're all just guests here,
making our way down the dark path as best we can.

14 July 2013

why i want to yell at other people

I want to yell things at drivers.

This is my confession, although it probably doesn't seem like a very worthy/juicy one, given that everyone wants to yell at other drivers at some point.

So let's call this more of my declaration of empathy with others, which sounds like something the United Nations would pass.

Here is what I want to yell at drivers: I am a person!

It is not because I'm feeling unsure of my personhood; it is because people in my town do not understand crosswalks.

When you're in a car, you're supposed to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. This is the rule, as well as a generally non-mean-person thing to do.

Below is a list of mean people behaviors I want to yell about:
  1. Ignoring the fact that if I am walking, that means I am outside in the elements, unlike a Mean Driver in their climate-controlled car. I know you may want to get to where you're going faster because it is starting to rain, but did you notice that I am in the rain and that my umbrella is not as sturdy as Mary Poppins' and does not give me the ability to fly home?
  2. Glaring at me as I cross the road, as if I were a chicken in a bad joke. Why are you angry, Mean Driver? Is NPR telling you all bad news? Did your favorite song from high school just come on the radio and you were still able to sing along with every word—but then you realized it was on the oldies station? I mean, you can't possibly be upset with me for using the crosswalk. I'm not jaywalking. I'm even smiling at you. Please smile back; it'll make you feel better.
  3. Speeding up when I have obviously started crossing the street. A block away from one of the crosswalks I use every day on my walk home from the train is a stop sign. I'm a smart pedestrian: I look both ways approximately 112 times before deciding it's safe enough to cross. The number of drivers who are sitting at the stop sign, see me start to cross, and then gun it through the intersection—if you knew how high that number was, you would yell, too.

I would like to warn you: If you do any of these things, I will yell* at you and put you on my Mean List.

*The yelling will be in my head. All this talk of yelling, and let's be honest, I would never actually yell at Mean Drivers. I mostly just smile at them more broadly and remind myself to be charitable towards others, even in my thoughts. And then I scurry across the road because no matter how Pollyanna/Anne of Green Gables your thoughts are, you still run a large risk of being run over in my town if you're in a crosswalk.

08 July 2013

conversation tips from NPR

I heard this story on NPR about how we're always trying to figure out what our pets are thinking.

We talk for them and give them, usually, funny voices.

We ask each other, "Now, just what do you suppose she's thinking when she digs her face into the couch like that?" Whoever we asked may speculate on the dog's thoughts by using that funny voice. You'll both laugh.

It wasn't exactly breaking news, particularly for anyone who owns a pet, but that's what I love about NPR: sure, they do their share of newsy stuff, but when you don't have commercials taking up air time, you're left with quite a bit of what I like to call quirkiness possibility.

{At certain times of the year, they're also left with quite a bit of time for pledge drives, which, I'm sorry to report, by the second day reduces me to shouting at the radio: BUT I ALREADY SUPPORT YOU! Where's my secret bypass button on this radio so I don't have to listen to you beg?

By the sixth day, I'm tempted to coerce everyone I know into supporting, just so the pledge drive will be shorter.}

The quirkiness possibility is in those stories on things like, "We like to talk for our dogs." It's as if NPR wants to help you be a better, more informed conversationalist. Maybe they have a corporate goal of making all of us into Renaissance men and women, able to pull out information on nearly every topic.

If they do, I'm in support of that goal. We all need more things to talk about beyond what we did over the weekend, how the weekend was too short, the rain or lack of rain, how we hope it doesn't rain over the weekend, and what we had/will have for dinner.

Not that those aren't fine topics. Don't you find that the predictability of some conversations is reassuring? They are the equivalent of sitting by a fireplace on a winter's night; you know you'll be comfortable, and you might get a little sleepy.

But sometimes, you want to throw some lighter fluid on the fire, and that's where NPR comes in handy. Just pay attention to what's happening in your conversation and see where you can slip in your NPR tidbit about dogs, GMO corn, or how to make beef stock.

If all else fails, just say, "Yes, I had a good weekend, too. In fact, I heard the most interesting thing on NPR."

03 July 2013

a train commuter!

I've had this dream since I was little about being a train commuter. How a little girl from a medium-sized town in Iowa comes up with this dream is the same way she comes up with a love for France: because it is so entirely other than her normal life.

Being a train commuter seemed so exotic and urban {which, when you're from Iowa and surrounded by corn fields, are synonymous}. The trains that went through my town when I was little were mostly ordinary and obvious and good for the economy: they were freight trains full of coal and grain and whatever else needed to be shipped.

Trains caused delays when you were stuck at the crossings: this was my familiarity with trains and their function within the community.

You learned that as you drove closer to downtown and the tracks that you needed to listen for the whistle; you needed to keep an eye on the train bridge crossing the Mississippi. Was there a train coming? Could you make it across before the gates came down at Main? Or should you swing west, up the river bluff and towards the bridge crossing the tracks?

By the time I learned to drive at 14, this gauging of train location was practically second nature, and I just knew when I should head up the bluff.

Later, after I'd learned to drive a stick but wasn't yet confident in it, the sight and sound of a train slowly chugging along the track would cause a sharp intake of breath—a sharp realization of fear. Halfway up the steep hill of the river bluff, on the way to bridge across the tracks, there was a stop sign.

If no one was behind me, I'd be fine; I wouldn't have to worry about running into them as I tried to do the delicate balance of the clutch and gas, trying to keep the car from rolling too far back, trying to keep it from bucking and dying on a hill. That hill, it was my Waterloo, and I did what Napoleon should've done: I avoided it.

I would sit at the train crossing as freight trains lumbered by, moving at the speed of molasses in January, as my mother likes to say. I would wait and avoid hyperventilating, and I told myself that slowing down and taking a break in the middle of the day just to admire my town and its excellent train crossings was well worth it.

I could listen to the click-click-click of the train wheels and to the whistle, and I could avoid hitting anyone. A win-win.

The sound of those train whistles and the click-clacking wheels—not to mention the cascading boom when train cars were coupled in the freight yard—that is the soundtrack of home.

Even now, I live near the railroad tracks in Glen Ellyn, and some people have asked, “But doesn't the train noise keep you up at night?”

No—it's practically a lullaby to me.

I always tell them that, and then tack on that I sleep like the dead, barely moving all night after I fall asleep almost instantly. A lot of people focus on that and ignore that I love the sound of trains so much, I might have been a Boxcar Child in another life. {Please tell me you've read The Boxcar Children books. They're charming in that way that being an orphan during the Depression always seems idyllic in retrospect.}

Trains where I come from are on the journey for the long-haul. Even the Amtrak trains that pass through Burlington are on their way to or from California, the people on them curled up with a pillow they brought on board so the train would feel more like home for 3 days.

The passengers wander into the dining car at their scheduled dinner time, hoping that this time it will feel more like that scene in White Christmas where Bing Crosby leads a four-part harmony about snow.

It rarely does feel like that, although you do feel that you've stepped back in time to when the train was the way to get places. When you're on the Amtrak, it's hard not to think about how astounding it must've been to get on a train for the first time back when it was new, unsure of this new technology—and then immediately become entranced with the ability to eat dinner in comfort while the cornfields flew by.

Now, though, I ride the train every day, and the scenery flying by is very suburban: restaurants, cupcake shops, bookstores, dry cleaners.

At one point, we cross over one of Chicago's expressways, and I always look down on it with a little smile {perhaps even bordering on a smirk}, thinking: I'd rather be here, doing my crossword puzzle, than trying to merge onto you any day.

I'm a train commuter! Like a real grown-up!

When any of your “when I grow up” dreams comes true, you instantly feel a mix of your younger self {complete with thick glasses, bangs, and a Care Bears t-shirt, in my case}, and the person you've become. “We did it,” you want to tell your little self.

“We dreamed big of joining the throngs heading to work on the train, and we did it! Now, what other, perhaps more ambitious dreams, did we have? Have we achieved those yet? What's that you say—become an Olympic gymnast like Mary Lou Retton? Umm, sorry, girly, but we better give up on that one.”

And then you give your little self a high-five of reassurance and get on the train. To work! Like a real grown-up!


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