As I walk through the city of Chicago, I always admire the towering giants that touch the clouds and sing of human ingenuity, achievement, and a constant stride towards the sky. I love the city. I know without a doubt that this is the world in which I belong. I love that you can travel the length a breadth of it on established transit. I love that a bus is rarely more than a twenty minute wait to go wherever your heart carries you. A train no more than ten. Getting where you are going is never a problem. Choosing where to go offers seemingly infinite possibility.
Chicago holds an intoxicating blend of old world grace and craftsmanship with the new, bold, and practical. On the block where I walk from the bus stop into work there is a building that practically shouts, “I was cutting edge in the sixties.” standing next to it, a building that quietly says, “Al Capone once met a girl for drinks in my lobby.” Then as you cross the street there is another building that may have once been a factory, but now houses students whose parents pay their tuition. To get to the park across the street from my apartment, you pass through a concrete tunnel under the expressway. It sounds like it should be a dull walk, but there are beautiful murals painted by a local art studio, all of which have mosaic tiles woven into each unique piece. There is a stream of flowers caught in the air, followed by an octopus, followed by a proud eagle, finished by a 1920’s style painting of people in a park. When you emerge from the tunnel, you see a fountain-empty now for the winter, but I imagine flowing and graceful when the garden thaws. This is the peace garden, which is connected to a lovely nature path that leads to the marina. It’s name does it justice. I find it very peaceful to walk here, and often do.
Lately I’ve been feeling rather cut off from the world though. It’s amazing how a place so filled with people can be so alarmingly lonely. I find I have nobody to talk to when things don’t go as planned-as lately they really haven’t. When my work life makes me crazy and I want to vent, there is nobody to listen, save my cat, and I’d rather not dive down that particular rabbit hole just yet.
In these moments, I wonder if I made a mistake moving so far from everything familiar. It isn’t that I want to go home exactly; it’s that a wish a bit of the home feeling had come here with me. I want this place that seems to mesh so well with who I am to be somewhere I feel I can hang my hat and stay. I know I ought to have more patience, as I have only lived here 5 months. Already I have an apartment, a job, and tentatively a writing group- though I haven’t been able to go in some time due to work. My schedule will be freed up a bit in March (so I’ve been promised) and maybe then I won’t feel so melancholy. Until then, I’m going to do my best to keep my chin up. That’s all anyone can ever ask, right?
I know I haven’t been on much. I apologize for the silence. If you have been following along, then you know my move to Chicago could only be permanent if I found a job. I am very pleased to announce I have found said job, and internet service (and my life) has been restored. I celebrated my 30th birthday last week, and I have decided the universe gets credit for my birthday job (I got the call for my interview on my actual birthday). The first step in finding my happy place in the world has been taken. Let us hope more leaps forward are forthcoming.
As for my books, I wish I could say I have been writing up a storm. Unfortunately, I seem to be completely out of synch with my creative inner voice. Perhaps it is that I am preoccupied with the enormity of how my life has changed in the last month- or perhaps that is what I am telling myself to let myself off the hook. Either way, my mind is in a different place than I would like it to be right now.
Recently, a writer friend of mine passed away. She was elderly, and she knew it was coming. Still, at my age is comes as a shock when someone leaves your world. More so when you learn about it via e-mail. Since I am not feeling particularly creative, and since my friend is on my mind, I will tell you the parts about her that left a mark on my life.
The woman who I will miss was named Evelyn McGraw. When I met her, she was already 90 years old. She attended the first writing group I was a part of, a group focused on indie writers that are new to the world of serious writing.
Evelyn wrote lovely, old fashioned poetry. She often wrote about growing up on a farm, the novelty of her grandmother’s home when she was a child, or observations of the beauty in nature all around us. She had a great fondness for than changing of the seasons. Every piece she wrote was a lovely, positive reflection on the world. Her writing really made you appreciate the world through her eyes, though she never gave herself a single ounce of credit for the craftsmanship of her words.
I often sat next to Evelyn in class. She was hard of hearing, and so I would repeat the advice and critiques that her peers offered up for her from out of hearing range. She always took advice and criticism gracefully, and applied that advice to her works. Some of those works can be found in A Tapestry of Verse, published by The Word Weavers Guild- edited by our fearless leader John Kelly. I was told they put out a second book this summer. I have yet to get my copy, so I am uncertain if Evelynn’s work will be in that book.
Sitting and talking with Evelyn helped me to get to know her. I found out she got her pilots license in the 1930’s, when women rarely did such things. She never made a big deal of it, but when she spoke of flying it was always with fondness.
One of my favorite things about Evelyn was that she seemed to get me. I’m a bit weird, and I write bizarre poems and stories (which you know if you have read my work). It’s always made me feel like I don’t quite fit in, especially with a traditional writers, like memoirists and historical writers-which is the predominant style of writer in the town where I am from. Evelyn never once made me feel anything but appreciated. She always smiled and said she was glad to see me every time we came to class, and I often got a hug as if she were a favorite aunt or grandmother. She praised my work, and more than once wrote on the top of my submissions not to change a word.
I adored Evelyn, but it never occurred to me that I mattered to her too, until last April.
Evelyn told the class she wasn’t going to be attending anymore, because it was getting too hard to make the trip. She wanted to have a “Christmas rehearsal” party, because she said she did not think she would live to see another Christmas. I wish she had been wrong, but I’m glad she had the foresight to plan it.
John asked everyone in the group to write a piece in their own style for Evelyn, and I was asked to made a cover image for a notebook we gave her to keep all of our gift works in. Most people wrote really touching letters to her about all the reasons we thought she was awesome. It was like a birthday party, where she was the guest of honor. She was happy, and you could tell she was very touched by how much we all cared about her.
I, as I so often do, deviated from what everyone else did. I was asked to write a piece in my style for her, and that is exactly what I did. I thought about all the things Evelyn talked about in the couple years I knew her, and I recalled a poem she wrote based on an experience she had playing with old antiques in her grandmother’s attic. And so, I invented a story and set it to poetry about a little girl named Evelyn pearl (a play on the old fashioned term of endearment for someone you love or treasure) who goes up to play in her grandmother’s attic. I have posted it on my blog before, but I have included it at the bottom of this post so you can reared it in context of you would like.
After we all read our contributions to her, and she tucked each page safely in her notebook, Evelyn brought out presents she had gotten for everyone. She gave me a beautiful figurine of a fairy dancing around a rose branch. While people were eating, Evelyn walked up to me and said, “Do you know why I got that for you?”
I smiled and said, “Because it’s a fairy?”
“Because it’s a fairy, just like you. Every time I see a fairy I think of you. And when I saw that, I knew I had to give it to you, because she looks like she came from one of your stories.”
My eyes watered, and I gave her a huge hug.
That’s the last time I saw her, and it is a beautiful memory to me.
I love that fairy, and I still have her. She is all wrapped in bubble wrap back in California, soon to be sent to me here in Chicago.
It’s funny how much a single person can impact your life, and how you don’t even realize it’s happened.
So here is the message I want to share this week, reader:
Cherish the memories; even the small ones. Even if you are young. They always matter.
I love when Hollywood turns a book into a movie. I know a significant amount of debate surrounds the topic, usually prompting the words, “The book is always better.” To that I reply, “Yes, it usually is. But I liked the movie anyway.”
The movie that sparked this line of thought in me today is The City of Ember. I am still (unfortunately) lost in Flu land, where my only comfort is HBO GO and complaining. I genuinely love the story line of this movie/book, and I greatly enjoyed the director’s adaptation of this well written story. Watching it reminded me that I never got around to reading the rest of the series, an oversight on my part-one I plan on correcting immediately. Amazon, here I come.
It seems to me that a lot of people feel the need to chose between a book and a movie. I sometimes wonder why that is. Why can’t I enjoy both? I am a huge fan of J.K. Rowling, and I have read every Harry Potter book she has written within 24 hours of publication. I am also a fan of the movies. Don’t get me wrong, I complained about movie number three being a little off from the book alongside everyone else, but that did not stop me from buying it and watching it numerous times. Nor did the notable absence of Peeves the poltergeist stop me from loving all 8 films (even though there were only 7 books).
While I’m at it, I also loved Memoirs of a Geisha (book and movie both), The Host (though I admit, I had to explain a lot that was left out to my husband who had not read the book), The Devil Wears Prada, The Hunger Games (dying for movie 4), One Day (I cried. A lot.), I Robot (though technically that is a bunch of short stores, and the movie was off in left field. Whatever, it was good anyway), and of course, Interview with a Vampire and Queen of the Damned. There were probably dozens more that I read/watched, but those are the ones I liked that I can think of off the top of my head.
To be fair, there were a few that totally did not capture the awesomeness of the books, and I did not like the film. In these cases, I’m certain that having read the book first ruined what might have otherwise been a good movie (maybe.) The first one off the top of my head is Eragon. Books are amazing. Christopher Paolini is a exceptionally talented author. The actors they picked for the film are all great choices, and skilled actors as well. But for some reason, I really just did not like the film adaptation, and I was not alone. Another Example of this odd phenomenon, since I usually do like on-screen adaptations, was the sword of truth TV series based off Terry Goodkind’s novels. I am a giant Goodkind fan. I’ve read everything of his except the most recent (haven’t bought it yet, but will.) I even like the Law of Nines, which is not technically part of the Sword of Truth series. The TV series just didn’t capture Richard for me, and I already had an impression of him in my mind from having followed him through a dozen books. In this particular instance, reading the book made the series impossible for me to like.
Even though there are exceptions to every rule- even ones we make for ourselves- I try to follow this line of thought: Love the movie as a movie, and love the book as a book. Who cares if you liked one better than the other? It doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate it for what it is.