Monthly Archives: June 2012

in which I freak out, and then calm down thanks to a timely youtube clip.

Last March, I received a very exciting piece of mail. Probably one of the most exciting pieces of mail I have ever received1.

Fortunately, I took a picture of it. And since a picture’s worth a thousand words, I can show it to you now.

The print is kind of small. You probably can’t read it. Which makes this a failure of a visual aid. But the point of the picture is that this was the letter telling me I had been accepted into my top graduate program – writing for children and young adults at Simmons College.

I first learned that there was such a thing as a degree in children’s literature back in the fall, when I was having typical graduating senior anxiety about what I was going to do with my life. I remember sitting on my bedroom floor and having a conversation with my mom about the next step, and then at the end, casually and half-jokingly slipping in, “You know what I want to get a masters degree in? Children’s literature!” To which I think she said something along the lines of, “That would be a great way to spend a lot of money.”

And I remember thinking, what an awesome an unattainable dream.

And yet, almost a year after that bedroom floor conversation took place, I will be starting the graduate program of my dreams. I will be spending the next two years of my life learning how to write books for people under eighteen. Until yesterday, I was really excited about this. The sort of excited where I could hardly keep myself from jumping up and down every time I thought about it.

Then yesterday, I was struck by a tidal wave of doubt and anxiety.

This monsoon that broke yesterday and washed away all my excitement was prefaced by several things. Storm warnings, if you will.

One, I looked at the loan I am going to be taking out for grad school. Or, more specifically, looked at how much and how long I am going to be repaying the loan for graduate school.

Two, I lost out on my dream apartment in Boston, meaning I have to return to long-distance apartment hunting, which is the most excruciatingly unfun thing I have ever done.

Three, I am knee-deep in a rewriting quagmire in the ‘thing2’ I am currently working on, and I began to doubt whether or not I was actually cut out for this.

Four, I read an article called “The most worthless masters degrees.” Creative writing was top. Children’s literature was so laughably impractical that it wasn’t even on the list – I’m sure the editors had a good chuckle at the idea that someone would actually throw their money away on a degree in children’s literature. Might as well give out a masters in cash burning.

So there I was yesterday at work, pretending to calmly research Drew Carey while in reality everything inside of me was screaming, “WHAT WHAT WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?”

Because what if I never write a book? What if I just be that person who starts a lot of books, or doesn’t even start them, just keeps talking about starting them? What if I never sell the book I write if I do write it? And what if I sell it and no one ever reads it? What if I never have a Wikipedia page?

What if I spend all this money getting a degree in children’s literature and then never work in one of the four positions available in this world for people with degrees in children’s literature? What if I spend all this money for a degree that I never, ever use?

And what if because of this degree, no one ever takes me seriously as a writer of anything other than children’s lit? What if I try to write my Great Gatsby – some angsty, literary novel about cancer and sexuality – and no one will read it because it was written by someone with a degree in CHIDLREN’S LITERATURE?

And then this was all quickly followed by the typical twenties angst about never doing anything with my life that is worth being noticed.

I was understandably freaking out.

I’m not sure what exactly changed, but somewhere between yesterday and now, my calm about the whole situation has been restored. Maybe it was the pep talk my friend Sondheim gave me yesterday when I called her from the lakeshore and pretended not to be panicking. Maybe it was an email I got from Jessi Klein with an extraordinary article about what it means to be a writer. Maybe it was watching John Green videos and remembering that this man, who tops the list of people I most respect and most aspire to be like in this lifetime, is a children’s author who finds ways to write angsty literary novels about cancer and sexuality, and is still taken seriously. Or maybe it was going to Molly’s Cupcakes3 with Nevada and having a solid discussion about The Bachelorette.

Or maybe I just listened to this, and my life was changed. (Everyone working in the arts needs to hear this)

For the next two years, I get to do nothing but write. I’m not going to have to struggle to make time for it like I have been. Instead, I am going to have two magnificent4 years where I have permission to be nothing but a writer. To enthusiastically and wholly and unapologetically do something that I love, and surround myself with people who will help me do that thing better. Two years to, in the words of Neil Gaiman, make good art5. I am walking towards the mountain. Small steps, but I am getting there.

And, so, though this post has absolutely nothing to do with NPR or Chicagoor “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me,” I am sharing my thoughts with you, and my excitement for the next chapter of my life. Because this is my blog, and I can write about whatever I damn well please.

  1. Other than my monthly copy of the American Girl catalogue
  2. I use the word ‘thing’ because I am intensely uncomfortable with any words that describe a work of novel length in application to my own work.
  3. No connection to the MT
  4. Albeit expensive
  5. Seriously, watch this. Or, if you’re a visual learner, click here for more color and less words. Either way, your life will be changed.
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in which i cast my vote

Kids, in the fall of 2010, I discovered the National Theatre.

I was in London for the weekend with a group of friends1, and they wanted to spend twenty pounds to ride the London Eye. Being fond of neither Ferris wheels nor traditional ideas of fun, I declined the invitation to join them. Instead, I used my twenty pounds to buy the last ticket – literally the last ticket2 – to the National’s sold-out production of Hamlet.

To this day, it is the best twenty pounds I have ever spent.

Hamlet at the National was the most moving and beautiful theatrical experience I have ever had. I am confident that I could live a thousand years and still feel a thrill each time I think about it. This production will forever remain the pinnacle of theatre in my mind, the gold standard to which every subsequent show is held. It was also the beginning of my long time love affair with Hamlet3.

That was the first time I fell in love with the National Theatre, and their courage to articulate beautiful and difficult truths of existence.

Very recently, I learned that the National is not only a champion for artists, but also for audiences. They have arranged for their productions to be filmed, then shown at select movie theatres across the world. And I understand that theatre is incredibly difficult to capture on film, but I am of the mind that there is no reason that it cannot still be moving and worth admiration. It is like looking at a print of a famous painting. Though it did not personally receive a touch of the master, it is no less a thing of beauty. And if it makes it possible for art to be more widely enjoyed by the world, then why not?

Tonight, I saw the National Theatre Live taping of Frankenstein, directed by Danny Boyle and starring Johnny Lee Miller and the incomparable Benedict Cumberbatch. The production ran last fall, and is now being rebroadcast by popular demand.

I saw the film at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago, which, it should be noted, is a beautiful venue with a ridiculous amount of old school charm. Tickets were $20, only slightly less than they were to see the actual production at the National.

But I can only think of a few times that I have spent a better $20.

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With each dollar we spend, we are casting a vote for the sort of world we want to live in. We are telling the world, this is what I support. Make more of this.

And tonight, I’d like to tell the world to make more men like Danny Boyle, who are fearless dreamers that laugh in the face of convention. Who make fire from air, who move mountains, who have songbirds inside their chests that burst forth in violent fits of beauty that we call art.

World, make more writers like Mary Shelly, who broke free of society’s shackles and wrote a book that changed the world, that inspired artists across a century  – a creation myth where God and man bleed seamlessly into each other.

Make more men like Johnny Lee Miller, who is not afraid of ugliness. Who is not afraid of being thought a fool, so long as his foolishness can stop another’s folly.

And dear sweet mother of Abraham Lincoln, make more men like Benedict Cumberbatch, with cheekbones that could cut glass and the piercing blue eyes of a Siberian husky and that luscious curly hair that I just want to run my fingers through.

But I want more of him for an entirely different reason4.

I would like to spend my money in a way that tells the world that I want art. Art that fills its viewers with the evangelical zeal to move differently in the world. Art that inspires you.

And after watching Frankenstein, the only thing I want to do is make more art.

Much like Victor Frankenstein, I want to be a creator. I ache to be God to a small world of my own design. But rather than give my creatures life to feed my own intellect, I want to use them to breathe life into others. I want to make my own monsters, to teach them to be wild and lovely, and how to be iridescent in the dark world, and leave a chain of people glowing behind them, ignited by their touch.

But the world in which we live is closing itself to the arts. The crowd at the theatre tonight was certainly smaller than it was when The Avengers opened earlier this year, and the viewership of this show is assuredly minuscule compared to Keeping Up with the Kardashians or Toddlers and Tiaras. More people will hear “Call Me Maybe” this summer than will hear a pitch-perfect recitation of Paradise Lost by Mr. Cumberbatch.

To quote Andrea Gibson, a poet you’ve probably never heard which is why she’s a perfect example of everything I’ve just said, “Why is art the first class to be dropped by any public school?/Why are music rooms empty in junior highs from New York City to Nashville, Tennessee?/How can you burn CD after CD after CD while filling your tank with an infinite amount of gas?/As though the war is worth funding but music isn’t?” Our culture has become a prison that we can unmake by supporting the things that build us up rather than destroy us. Things that inspire us. Things that move us to move others.

And so, as someone who both yearns to create and hopes to someday live in a world that will facilitate that creation, I hope that you will join me in casting your vote for the passionate and the bold. Please, support the arts. It doesn’t have to be Frankenstein at the National5. It doesn’t have to be theatre. It doesn’t even have to be $20 worth of support.

But cast your vote in any way you know how, and let the world know that art is important to you.

More information about National Theatre Live 

More information about Andrea Gibson, a woman who will change your life

Pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch being a sexy beast of a man


  1. Though it was a friendship based solely upon shared nationality.
  2. The cashier told me so. The rest of the line promptly mutinied against me.
  3. It remains my longest relationship to date.
  4. I see that man and the only thing I think is, “Must. Mate. Immediately.”
  5. In fact, I would probably definitely not recommend this production for everyone. Particularly not my mother.
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in which i race against the clock

My friends, may you all someday be so lucky as to receive an envelope that looks like this.

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Because that envelope contains a voicemail message from Carl Kassel. I know, because I personally mailed out a slew of them today.

May you also be so lucky as to never find yourself riding in a cab with a bacon sundae. Because that also happened today.

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My Monday intern quest was picking up the item for today’s Sandwich Monday, a Wait Wait blog segment where the staff weekly partakes of the most disgusting foods they can find, and then passes judgment upon them. Today we decided to go off course and instead of a sandwich, we at the Burger King Bacon Sundae. Which is a real thing. And it is exactly what it sounds like. Since we reported it on the show last week, we felt we owed it to our loyal followers to take a bullet and actually try the thing. That and we just really love bacon.

Today’s cab ride to get the bacon sundae was much more successful than the last time I was in a cab, though when we arrived at the address, the cab driver definitely gave me a judgmental look that clearly said, Did I really just drive you to a Burger King? To which I shot back a look that clearly said, Shut up, it’s for NPR.

There aren’t many Burger Kings near the Pier, and fewer that serve the bacon sundae, so it was kind of a trip. I ended up into an area I had never been before, facing down a freestanding Burger King complete with drive through and parking lot, which is weird for a city like Chicago. When I walked inside the restaurant and looked around, I immediately realized I was breaking the cardinal rule of traveling that I learned during my year in Europe: If there are no white people or women around, you should not be here. In this Burger King, I was most certainly a minority.

But I had not just paid an excessive amount of money to come across town and be judged by a cab driver for nothing, so I walked confidently up to the counter to order the bacon sundae.

The following conversation unfolded:

Me: Hi, can I get a bacon sundae please?
Burger King Employee1: A what?
Me: A bacon sundae.
BKE: You actually want a bacon sundae?
Me: Yes.
BKE: *judges me*
Me: [internally] Shut up, it’s for NPR.
BKE: [turns to coworkers and shouts in Spanish2] Does anyone know how to make a bacon sundae?

I have to imagine that the bacon sundae is not one of this location’s more popular menu items.

After a slew of judgmental looks from the workers and patrons alike, I received my bacon sundae. It looked like a normal sundae, except that it had a dorsal fin of bacon jutting out of the top and a suspicious sprinkling of crispy pork along the rim. I left the restaurant, trying to be cool about the fact that I had just ordered a bacon sundae, then hailed a cab3 and installed the now sweating bacon sundae on the seat beside me.

Friends, 90 degree heat plus humidity is not conducive to the traveling bacon sundae. I was barely out the door of Burger King before it started to collapse upon itself like a dying star. To make matters worse, the cab ride was neither air conditioned or quick. We must have hit every stoplight between the sketchy Burger King and the Pier, and with each, the bacon sundae came a little closer to becoming vanilla bacon soup4. The vertical strip of bacon that once protruded majestically from the top of the ice cream spiral began to nose dive downward like the Titanic.

As the bacon sundae perspired beside me, I started to sweat too. As much as I was repulsed by the bacon sundae, I could not bear the thought of letting down the Sandwich Monday readers. The safe delivery of this bacon sundae was my quest, and much like Don Quixote of old, I refused to leave a quest unfinished, the weak unprotected, a bacon sundae unfrozen. This bacon sundae was somebody’s impossible dream, and I was damn well going to make sure that impossible dream was dreamed. I was prepared to give my life to see this bacon sundae made it to the office. In fact, I’m fairly certain that if we had been in an accident, I would have thrown myself in front of that bacon sundae to protect it.

In the end, I did everything I could to keep the bacon sundae alive short of grabbing the sinking strip with a harrowing cry of, “I’ll never let go, Bacon!” and yet I still ended up power walking up the Pier carrying a cup full of melty shame.

But the staff was not deterred. We let the bacon sundae chill in the freezer for a while, then broke it out and passed it around before passing judgment. The reactions ranged from totally repulsed to pleasantly indifferent. Though I am opposed to both Burger King and bacon sundaes, I tasted it, simply because I felt a strange connection to it after our mad dash together across the city.

The taste made me glad that I had not given my life for that bacon sundae. That would have been a total waste.

More opinions on the Bacon Sundae by the “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me” staff

  1. I want to call her a waitress, but the things that fast food employees do can hardly be described as ‘waiting’ in any sense of the word.
  2. Which fortunately, I occasionally understand.
  3. Successfully! Hailed my first cab! And after spending all the time waiting for my bacon sundae sweating about how on earth I was ever going to get a cab in this area of town. Though I must admit, while standing on the corner waving my arm in the air, the image from “A Study in Pink” rose unbidden in my mind. I still suspect all cab drivers are serial killers, though out of the six cab rides I’ve had in this city, I’ve made it alive out of every one. Which makes me think that Jim Moriarty’s criminal web has not yet reached Chicago…..come on Sherlock fans. Anyone?
  4. Which it occurs to me sounds  infinitely more delicious than bacon sundae.
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In which I go totally nuts, Joseph Gordon-Levitt style.

A few months ago, I read a book that changed my life.

Since finishing this book, it has dominated my thoughts in a way that only truly great books can. I have reread it several times since, as well as shoved it upon everyone I meet. If I could, I would stand on street corners and hand out this book to strangers.

Within its pages, there are innumerable pockets of wisdom, and since I read it, I have been filling my journals with nothing but quotations from its chapters. However, there is one mantra throughout the book that I became particularly attached to.

I am not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasures of existence.

I read this. Then reread it. Then reread it again. I thought about it in the frame of the narrative, and then I thought about it within the context of my own little life. I thought of all the time I had wasted apologizing for things that made happy. Apologizing for being myself. All the times I had denied myself happiness because of my own doubts and obsession with self-image.

I remember a very specific moment in late April, when I went to a swing dance performance that my best friend since middle school and once roommate was in1. The show was held at a disused roller rink, with neon lighting and lots of people in cowboy hats and very loud country music. In totality, it was about as far out of my element as I get. So there I was, standing on the sidelines waiting for 14’s dance group to perform, watching the room having fun around me while I stood with my shoulders hunched in clear indication that I was not comfortable here.

Then, out of nowhere, Augusts Water’s advice rose, unbidden, to the forefront of my mind.

I am not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasures of existence.

Simple pleasures like dancing like a maniac in a room full of strangers. Like singing to country music, and boot-scootin’ boogie-ing, and permitting yourself to look like an idiot because you were happy.

So I stopped apologizing through my posture, and I danced2.

If you know anything about me, you know that I have a borderline unhealthy obsession with the film “(500) Days of Summer.” In my opinion, it is one of the greatest cinematic triumphs of the last decade. It is one of the simple pleasures I do not ever deny myself.

There are many things I love about this film3, but one of the biggest things is that the main character Tom has a chalkboard wall. Since the first time I saw the film, I have perpetually lusted for a chalkboard wall of my own. How absolutely divine that would be, I thought, to make your home into a canvas where you could daily fling the contents of your mind.

So when I moved into Iowa’s apartment and found her closet was made of chalkboard, I had a silent internal nerd girl freak out. I could not wait to go nuts all over it, JGL style. Give me chalk and give it to me now, I wanted to shout, because surely this will be the greatest piece of home décor I have ever known.

….and then I proceeded not to touch it for three weeks.

Because I was nervous4. I was nervous to make any mark upon the wall because I knew that whatever I drew would be like putting myself up for judgment by anyone who walked by the wall and saw it. I would have to own up to anything I wrote or drew, claim it as a piece of me, and allow others to think what they would about me based upon it.

That was mostly the reason. But I told myself it was also because I didn’t want to inflict anymore of myself than necessary on Iowa and Nevada5.

And then, last night, with no one at home but me and Cat, I found myself again scanning the pages of the book that changed my life, and I once again was pierced by the mantra of a dying boy:

I am not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasures of existence.

Writing on chalkboard walls made me happy. It was a simple pleasure of my existence.

So why not stop apologizing, and go wild all over that bad boy?

And so I did. In a staccato burst of artistic fury that struck at one am6, I attacked the wall, while Cat watched with her usual wry amusement.

And in the end, our barren chalkboard closet doors, which once held only a single inspirational gospel quote, a drawing of a rocket ship, and a few notes from couch surfers, looked like this:

Gah the picture is borderline out of focus. Out of focus photos are the bane of my existence. Perhaps some close ups then, for emphasis. Also I want to show this off because you have no idea how insanely proud I am of this wall.

I don’t fancy myself as much of an artist, and I’ve always been of the mindset that pictures may be worth a thousand words, but I’d rather have a thousand words. So mostly I wrote things.

Things like my all-time favorite Andrea Gibson quote;

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And some Zelda Fitzgreald awesomeness;

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And then there was a message to fellow Nerdfighters7

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Some Sherlock-related graffiti8;

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Some Star Wars love, complete with a Chewbacca, because he is the only Star Wars character I feel capable of drawing, though as I look at it now, I realize that really don’t look as much like Chewbacca as I previously thought;

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Assorted randomicity, including a Buy More man that in no way compares to the one 14 once henna tattooed on my arm;

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And, of course, the quote that inspired it all9;

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And so, in summary;

Moral of the story: do things that make you happy.

Also, points if you can guess all the references on the wall! Leave them in comments!

  1. Oh I forgot, she really wanted an alias….let’s call her 14. But not because that’s her age. That would be creepy.
  2. But only one dance. Let’s not get out of control here.
  3. Zooey Deschanel, Zooey Deschanel’s hair, Zooey Deschanel’s clothes…
  4. Which really is a neutral state of being for me.
  5. The new roommate! Welcome, Nevada!
  6. As most bouts of artistic inspiration do.
  7. Anyone? Nerdfighters out there besides the MT?
  8. So many Sherlock quotes I wanted to write, but they were too weird out of context.
  9. Please pardon the fact that this looks like it was written by an eight year old. It was, fittingly, the first thing I wrote on the wall, and I was still getting reacquainted with the delicate art that is writing on a chalkboard. It’s a skill I have not had to use since primary.
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in which i am alarmingly social, and eat the pizza served in heaven

I have never considered myself a social person by any stretch of the imagination. Last year, I could count my friends on one hand, and spent most nights on the couch doing homework and watching assorted trashy television programs with my roommates1. I spent almost every Saturday in various bookshops alone. The two weeks before the big move to the windy city, I was basically a book-reading hermit hunkered down in my living room, rarely emerging for anything other than diet coke.

And I anticipated my life to continue like that. I thought Chicago would just be a bigger city for me to be alone in. This summer of solitude would give me a chance to write every day, and I expected to read slathers of books in my first week alone.

But since arriving here, I have not picked up a book, and my half-written novel is exactly where I left it months ago. Because I have been busy. And not just like work busy. Social busy.

Which is weird.

Last night, I went out with an eclectic group of people with only one big thing in common – we were all Mormons. It should be noted that the YSA community here is amazing. They do more stuff together than any other branch I have been in, and it is mostly stuff outside of and unrelated to church that people organize and then send out a blanket invitation to. This particular activity was organized by Iowa and me. We went to Millennium Park2 for their free concerts in the park series, meaning I spent about an hour lying in the grass at the most beautiful outdoor theater I have ever seen, with a full orchestra and choir singing to the city, and people around me drinking wine and eating cheese. It was, in all, rather blissful.

Said blissful concert was followed by my very first taste of Chicago-style deep dish pizza, at the legne3dary Giordano’s Pizzeria. The place was hopping. There were people spilling out of the doors and into the plaza waiting for a table, and since our group was kind of large, we had to wait an hour. Which was fine.

Because the pizza….oh the pizza. It was the kind of pizza that ruins all other pizzas for you. The kind of pizza that makes you never want to brush your teeth again unless it’s with a toothbrush made of that pizza. The kind of pizza that you want to take home to meet your parents, buy a nice little place in the upper east side, and then start a life with.

I cannot emphasize how much I liked this pizza4.

Afterwards, with pizza sitting like rocks in our stomachs5, we ventured out onto the streets of Chicago. As twilight fell, we walked along the river, and then out on to the harbor of the lake, looking out towards the Pier with a fleet of yachts and sailboats speckling the dark water around us.

As we passed a lakeside restaurant where a jazz ensemble was playing, I turned around to behold a skyline dipped in starlight, framed by the river and luminous against the midnight sky. The only words that came to my mind were breathtaking and happiness.

And my uncharacteristically social weekend does not end there, friends. This morning, I saw the city bathed in rosy sunlight and sweating beneath the humidity, as my friend Ms. Bennet and I took a water taxi south6 to Chinatown, where we found an eccentric collection of bookstores, herbalists, and seedy restaurants. We ended up eating some of the best Chinese food I have ever had, with fresh shrimp that set off fireworks of flavor in my mouth, and sesame chicken so delicious it was like Christmas in your mouth. Meat and teriyaki Christmas. We drank honeydew smoothies, talked about books, and I convinced myself I didn’t need another ten dollar scarf.

This city is made of awesome. I am constantly amazed by its complexity, by the layers of people that inhabit it, and the spheres in which they dwell, all at once different and the same. This is a city that moves and lives, with so much to see and do that you could live here your whole life and never do it all7.

Last night, as we walked along the lake, I thought to myself, how lovely it would be to fall in love in this city. To write novels and plays and poetry on park benches in the summer, to drink tea and watch the leaves fall from a café window. To make music on the streets of this city, songs rising above the crashing trains, to paint this city in its every incarnation, and then decorate your walls with renderings of its architecture. How wondrous to pass nights meandering along the harbor and watching sunset bow to moonbeam as night soundlessly falls.

And how lovely it is to be young in this city, to be reckless, and wild. To be able to eat pizza until you can’t move. To stay out later than the stars and fireworks, to race the moon across the sky. To be young and untethered, with a misty future before you, about which nothing is certain except that it is bright.

Chicago, how I love thee. Don’t ever change.

On an unrelated note, at the end of the night, heavy with pizza and happiness, Iowa turned to me and said, “So are you going to write about this on your blog?”

Guys….Iowa reads the blog.

 

  1. AKA the friends I could count on one hand.
  2. Home of the giant mirrored bean!
  3. Wait for it.
  4. Those of you who followed my blog when I was in England will remember I have a thing for good food. For those of you just joining us, here’s a little fun fact about me: I love food. I write about food a lot. Prepare yourself.
  5. Warm, delicious, pizza flavored rocks
  6. I think it was south. Maybe not, but I’m going to say south because it sounds better than “In a direction that was not towards the lake or my apartment.”
  7. True to form, I am already having tremendous anxiety about doing everything I want to before I go.
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in which i give what sound like made-up directions, and take the wrong stairs.

If I was to describe to you my walk to work, you would probably think that I was giving you directions to the setting of a children’s fantasy novel, or laying out an absurd practical joke of which you were about to fall victim.

The location of the WBEZ office, which headquarters both NPR in Chicago (which I work for) and one of Chicago’s premier public radio stations, is in an incredibly bizarre location for such a professional establishment. It is located near the end of Navy Pier, also known as Chicago’s best tourist trap, where the thrills are cheap, and the food is not1.

If I were giving you directions to get to the WBEZ office, it would include real instructions such as “As you walk along the pier, go past the House of Mirrors, past the pirate ship, turn left at The Billy Goats Tavern, and if you hit the lighthouse, you’ve gone too far.”

Really. It’s the most unlikely place for a public radio station to be located2.

Once inside, the WBEZ building is not a particularly complex one. But I’ve never been good with directions. Today, I won a small victory when I managed to find the mail room all by myself after only being shown where it was twice, and discovered a new secret door out onto the roof terrace3.

So I was feeling rather confident when I decided to try a new set of stairs down from the third floor. I was also feeling rather good about these stairs because I took them yesterday when our staff went in mass together down to catch a cab to the Chase Bank Auditorium, where we do our weekly live shows.

But, as you may have guessed from the fact that I am writing about it, and I only write about things with a good story attached, the stairs I ended up on were not the same stairs as I took yesterday.

On these stairs, there was a sign on the door saying, “WARNING4  NO REENTRANCE.” Which I thought was odd, but progressed anyways. Only to find that these really weren’t stairs, it was instead a really short ramp thing, next to three stairs that clearly did not lead to another floor, and then another ominous white door with a little window, like something out of mental institution. Just as I realized I had made a grave error, I heard the no reentrance door shut behind me, and lock. Trapped.

Cautiously, unsure what I would find on the other side but mostly panicking that it was also locked, I ventured down the ramp and towards the white door. On the other side, I found what looked like the inside of a conference center, with tall ceilings and carpets that brought to mind the print of my bedroom curtains in England5. The whole room was very nice and spanking clean and had velvet ropes over the doors, clearly signifying that this was not somewhere I was supposed to be.

I wandered the halls for a while, clinging to exit signs when I saw them and praying not to run into security guards. The whole place was eerily still, and I felt myself subconsciously begin to tiptoe.

Eventually I found my way out. I still am not entirely sure where I ended up, other than I finally came out in the seating area of a very expensive restaurant6.  I breathed a sigh of relief, and fled back on to the main thoroughfare, vowing to never again to stray from the path that I knew well.

  1. Seriously, everything on the McDonald’s dollar menu costs two.
  2. It’s also just a few buildings down from a Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, and yesterday I watched a man vigorously try to get his son to eat there instead of McDonald’s. The son was seven, and totally not buying it.
  3. Which overlooks the lake and oh my lanta it is a view that a landlocked kid from Utah will never grow tired of.
  4. Always a bad way for a sign to start
  5. For those of you who didn’t follow my adventures in England, these curtains were barftastic.
  6. But is there really any other kind on the Pier?
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in which i pretend i am a radio legend, and meet a comedy icon.

In the last two weeks, I have learned that there is an abundance of perks to working in the media. First of all, people send you free stuff. Mostly books. Sometimes CDs. But mostly books. Which is really all you need in life.

But seriously, the “Wait Wait” office gets a lot of books. The table in the middle of our cubicle cluster has started to buckle beneath the weight as they slowly pile up1. We also have subscriptions to lots of magazines, including Glamour and People2, which everyone covertly reads when they think no one is looking. Everyone except Carl, because he’s way too classy for that.

Also, we received a box of free vodka this week. For unknown reasons.

Another perk of the job is that when my bosses get free tickets to see the Scott Adsit (Pete Hornberger in “30 Rock”) improv show, and they can’t use them, I get them. Even though it means taking the train at 10:30 at night to the stop right next to Wrigley Field right when a baseball game lets out so that I am practically trampled trying to swim upstream against a sea of half-crazed, drunk baseball fanatics, it’s worth it.

I’m fairly certain the theatre the show was held in is an over 21 venue, and the whole way I was sweating that I would be revealed as the spring chick that I am. But since I was with someone who conveniently works at the theatre, I was not carded. The guy at the door looked at my ticket, then looked at me, then looked at the girl I was with, who he knew, then back to me. Then said, and I quote, “Eh. I trust you.” First mistake dude3.

The show itself was biazzare and hilarious. It was strange and awesome to see Adsit in real life, with a beard, and not being crazy Hornberger, but instead a totally different type of crazy. The show was awesome…though weirdly dark for an improv comedy show4.

And, in that moment of sitting in a seedy comedy club at midnight surrounded by youthful, energetic, metropolitan people, I felt like I could possibly be a young Tina Fey.

Then today, I thought instead that I could perhaps be a young Terry Gross.

I did my first interviews today5. And, while sitting in a studio, soundproof and so still that the silence seemed to hum, with a huge, legit-looking microphone and giant headphones6 before me, I found myself overcome by a childish, yet irresistible desire.

And so I looked around to be certain I was not overheard7, then leaned in to the microphone and covertly whispered, “From NPR news in Washington, I’m Mackenzi Lee.”

It was  one of those weirdly giddy moments of pretend snuck inside of real life, and it momentarily made me think that perhaps a career in broadcasting was ahead of me.

Of course, the whole experience became infinitely more exciting when Carl Kasell entered the studio to record voicemail messages with me8.    

Another perk of my job is that I work in an office where twenty minute conversations about sexually-depraved penguins are totally okay. and the phrase “Lady Hitler” becomes commonplace.

Seriously. I love this.

  1. Prompting executive producer to say dreamily to no one in particular, “Remember how our last intern was so anal about keeping things clean around here?” *moment of silence.* “….hey Mackenzi…”
  2. Both of which I am pretending to be a lot less excited about than I actually am.
  3. On an unrelated note, tonight after the live show, Carl offered to help sneak me into a bar by telling them I was his mother. It should be noted that Carl is pushing seventy.
  4. Just the way I like it.
  5. The fact that the interview was with a man who spells his name with a question mark, about a paper he published discussing the infectious spread of Beiber fever is irrelevant.
  6. Damn, I love giant headphones.
  7. As though anyone could hear me while I was in a soundproof studio. That is rather the point, is it not?
  8. Not for me, unfortunately.
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in which i ride in a cab. more exciting than it sounds.

Today, at approximately 12:24 p.m., I was asked the following question;

“Mackenzi, would you like to go on a quest?”

Since I had spent most of the day working myself into a stupor by watching forty-minute videos of John Irving discuss the complexities of sexual identity in his fourteen novels, I immediately answered yes1.

The quest in question involved the Just for Laughs festival, which is going on this week in Chicago. I know very little about this, except that it involves Conan, a lot of comedians, and that the producers of Wait, Wait’s sister show, “How to Do Everything,” were going to be interviewing some of the writers for it. My quest was to go to Hotel Sax, where the event was headquartered, and pick up their press passes.

The details of the quest were all rather vague. No one in the office knew exactly where Hotel Sax was, or how I should get there, or even if I would be given the passes without valid NPR ID once I did. However, the question of transportation was solved when one of the producers off-handedly mentioned, “Just take a cab and expense it.”

Friends, is there any phrase more seductive and empowering than, “You can expense that”? And yet, I paused.

In my mind, riding in a cab is a telling sign that one is a professional adult. I can count on one hand the times I have ridden in a cab that was not going either to or from the airport. When I see people hailing cabs on the street, or riding alone in cabs, texting aloofly in the backseat, my first thought is always, “Wow, they must be grown up and professional.” And, not wanting to grow up too fast, I hesitated.

But, after Google maps confirmed my suspicion that I no longer live in a city where I can walk absolutely anywhere I please, I decided a short taxi ride was preferable to fighting with the subway. I squared my shoulders, marched out onto the Pier, and proceeded to find a cab.

The whole walk down the Pier, I was sweating that I was going to have to do more than just ride in a cab, I was going to have to hail a cab, which I have never done and would frankly have stressed me out to the point of institutionalization. Thankfully, there is a whole army of cabs waiting at the end of the Pier to sucker in tourists who do not know there is a subway stop a block away, and I enlisted a driver to take me to my desired location.

Though I am inherently distrustful of cab drivers thanks to a certain TV show that will remain nameless, once I was in the backseat and we were cruising, my over-active nerves quieted, and I started chatting with the driver. When he said something about what a nice day it was, I found myself uttering the phrase, “Yes, it’s sonice to get out of the office for a while!” I immediately gagged on my own pretentious counterfeit persona of young businesswoman who takes cabs all the time. So nice to get out of the office? What sort of B-list rom com did I drag that one from? Somebody call Reese Witherspoon to voice me over, and Ryan Gosling to meet my eyes across a crowded room.

But the cab driver didn’t say anything, and I didn’t mention that said office I was getting out of involved me watching lots of youtube and having conversations about the sexual exploits of penguins2.

We arrived at the Hotel Sax, at which point I moved to pay the fare. At which point I realized that I have literally no idea how to pay for a cab in America. What followed was a brief exchange stretched to a small infinity by the awkwardness of it3, and ended in me fleeing the cab, professional businesswoman who rides in cabs all the time image shattered and lying in pieces at my feet, and staggering up to the fourth floor of the hotel, where Team CoCo is headquartered4.

The TBS floor looked like so shockingly like a movie set of a posh TV headquarters that I almost thought it was a joke. There was a white-leather circular couch with this futuristic coffee table in the center. It was surrounded by a wall made out of TV5. There was a bar with hanging glasses and this weird neon wall behind it. And there was the TBS logo on every surface, as if they’d been working here for years and not just arrived last week. All the place needed was some low lighting, techno music, and dancing girls in cages and it’d be ready for a close up.  For a moment, I felt weirdly like I had arrived. Arrived in that weird world of professional, cab-riding people that I want to be a part of. That I can sort of kind of pretend to be a part of.

And then this whole story gets less exciting. I picked up the press passes. A cab driver6 was coerced into returning me to Navy Pier. And this time I was smart enough to pay with my card, and pretend to text aloofly in the back seat the whole way.

However, on the ride back to the Pier, I started to notice something rather neat, and promptly added it to the list of things I love about Chicago. Having spent virtually no time driving around the city, I had never realized the effect the L train has on the whole car experience. The L train runs on iron rails above so many of the streets that even normal roads have a dark, shadowed feeling about them as though the city exists in perpetual evening. The echoing crash of the trains from above coupled with the magnified purr of the car engines makes you feel like you are about to need epic theme music and a machine gun. It’s very Gotham-esque7.

And that is the story of me pretending to be a working woman in a white-collar job who knows how to take a cab. I may not be the best intern NPR has ever had, but I’m certainly the most falsely professional8.

  1. I would have answered yes anyways, because I am always down for a good quest.
  2. True story, but for the record, we weren’t just recreationally discussing this. It’s a news story. Really.
  3. Being unsure as to whether or not tip had already been factored into the fare, I handed the driver a ten dollar bill for a four dollar ride, then asked for a receipt. So I could expense it, ya know. He was obviously unaccustomed to customers expecting change, because his eyes lit up like a fireworks display. I immediately realized my error – even a cabber as inexperienced as I knows that a more than 50% tip is overkill. In the words of the great philosopher Stephen Sondheim, “I may not be smart, but I ain’t dumb.” And so, what followed was that miserable infinity where I tried to ask for change without asking for it, and he tried to dissuade me from asking for change.
  4. Before any of you get ideas that this story is going to be more exciting than it really is, let me just say this now; didn’t meet Conan.
  5. Not to be confused with a wall covered in TVs.
  6. That I did not have to hail.
  7. As much as I tried to pass that one off as a reference to some artistic movement (Oh Henri, that Chinese vase you bought at auction is sooo Gotham-esque), I definitely meant Batman.
  8. In other news, I now have a TBS lanyard and nothing to do with it. Maybe I will put together an epic Chicago-themed prize pack to give away at the end of the summer.
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In which I curse all feline kind.

There is a cat that lives in my apartment. She is not my cat, but she lives with me none the less.

She will heretofore be known as Cat1.

Cat has belonged to my roommate, Iowa2, since she moved to Chicago two years ago. Cat has never seen beyond the four walls and one room of our apartment, other than her brief tenure at the pet store where her life began. She spends her days alternately engaged in one of three activities: one, watching the L train pass the window; two, loving on Iowa; three, hating me.

Cat does not particularly like me, and I don’t particularly like her. But at least it’s mutual.

Having grown up in a house with a rotating cast of dogs that weighed more than I did, two of the last words I would use to describe myself are “cat person.” I do not like cats. I have never liked cats. And I am fairly confident that I will never like cats. And, though I came into this relationship willing to give things a chance, I have yet to meet a cat that has changed my opinion of cats.

I especially do not like Cat.

Iowa and I have been both been gone this week – Iowa went home for a few days, and I was having grown up life adventures in Maryland.

Cat was not happy about this.

Cat was even less happy when it was me that walked through the door yesterday morning and not Iowa.

So, on top of her usual aloof standoffishness, Cat has been going out of her way to torment me until her mistress returns home.

And so, for the past two days, Cat and I have had a less than playful back and forth thing going on. I refuse to pet her. She bites my leg. I try to pet her. She bites my leg. I push her off the couch when she chews on my Duluth pack3. She bites my leg. I try to shut her head in the refrigerator4. She bites my leg. I leave for several hours to go to church. She poops all over the apartment, walks in that poop, and then tracks it all over the carpet. Which does not seem like a proportional response.

Now, after the arduous and odorous experience of de-pooping the entire apartment, I am sitting on the sofa, and Cat is sitting on the sofa above my head, staring unblinkingly at me with those unnervingly large green eyes. Which is freaking me out, because I feel like she’s sizing me up to fillet me. Occasionally, I will try to make peace with her; I will reach up to give her a scratch behind the ears. And she will lunge at me, jaws spread wide, with the intention of taking off my finger. Then I call her a name, and we both go back to what we were doing before.

I do not like Cat.

  1. I considered calling her “The Cat,” but having just watched BBC Sherlock’s “A Scandal in Belgravia,” this somehow felt disrespectful to Irene Adler.
  2. Since my blog has been getting traffic that extends beyond my family and friends, I’ve decided not to call people by their names in this blog without their permission, mostly because I had a dream about someone getting mad at me for writing mean things about them. So if you are ever mentioned on the blog, it will be under an alias. Which could be exciting for you.
  3. In unrelated news, my Duluth pack is the best investment I have ever made. There is no way in hell I am letting Cat get her razor choppers around it.
  4. Calm down PETA, I’m exaggerating for dramatic effect. But seriously, the thing where she tries to climb in the fridge every time I open it is driving me crazy.
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in which two thousand Marylanders pay money for a free radio program

I make it my policy to be nervous for absolutely everything.

Our Bethesda trip was no exception.

First week on the job, I thought. What a terrible way to get acclimated to a new and unfamiliar environment where everyone but me knew what was going on. What a terrible idea this is, I thought.

On the contrary, when it hit about five-thirty today, I realized that this trip was probably the best thing that could have happened for the first week. Because I was not the only one who had no idea what the hell I was doing. Instead, no one knew. Nobody knew how to get to the theatre. No one knew where the green room was. No one knew what was being served for dinner. No one knew what was going on.

Which was great. Because it made me just one of the staff. Since this day has been long, yet abounding with stories to be shared, I thought I’d share my schedule for the day.

9:00 : I am scared awake by my phone alarm blaring on the end table next to me, namely much closer to my ear than where it usually is on the floor with me on the top bunk. I check my email and find that everyone went to breakfast at 9. Except me. Who just woke up.

10:00 : Work from hotel begins. I spend a while unsuccessfully calling MTV asking for comment on a story. I end up talking to an amusing journalist and a reality TV blogger instead.

12:00 : One of the producers tells me I can expense room service. I immediately begin plotting how to exploit this.

1:00 : After staring at the menu for a while, I realize I am too frightened to actually use the room service. I walk to Arby’s instead.

2:45 : We meet in the lobby. Unplanned, all the women are wearing black dresses. We get in a cab driven by the world’s shortest cab driver, wearing the kind of glasses you are given by the eye doctor after he dilates your eyes. I am not entirely sure that he can see over the dashboard.

3:00 : The staff arrives on stage for a read through. Carl Kasell is waiting for us there, and he greets everyone with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Including me. I faint.

3:15 : Read through begins on stage. I sit with large headphones, feel official, and listen quietly until I am called upon to share my knowledge about the week’s Not My Job guest. I discover that one joke I made over the course of the week has ended up in the script. I glow with pride.

3:30 : A series of inappropriate jokes are made about the Muppets and Middle Eastern stereotypes. They are incredibly offensive and utterly hilarious. All of them end up in the script.

5:30 : Read through ends. I am sent up two flights of stairs to the box office. Four times. In heels.

5:45 : I wander into the greenroom to find this buffet of awesomeness laid out. As an intern on a limited budget, this might be the best meal I eat all summer.

6:00 : Carl wanders into the greenroom. I shyly request a picture with him. He obliges. Carl and I start chatting.

6:15 : Carl and I are still chatting. I am melting inside with happiness.

6:30 : PJ O’Rourke meanders in and reads us his bluff the listener story, which the producers do not approve. He wanders out for another cigarette to think about it.

6:45 : Sam Kass, the Not My Job guest arrives. Everyone is suddenly apologetic for the buffet, since he is a White House chef and it suddenly seems pathetic.

7:00 : Mo Rocca is writing his prediction for the end of the show. He is pacing. Actually, power walking might be a better way to describe it. Every time he comes back to the green room, he sits down next to me and starts thinking out loud to me. I suppose this is because I am the only one not talking to anyone, and it is less weird if he pretends to talk to me than if he talks to himself.

7:15 : Producers are still working on the script in a dressing room. Show starts in fifteen minutes.

7:30 : I sit down on the stage with several of the producers. The audience starts whispering and pointing to us, because we are a sign the show is about to start. Some people even take pictures of us. I try to look calm and poised and like I know what I am supposed to be doing.

7:37 : The rest arrive and pass out scripts. Which are definitely still warm from the printer.

7:40 : I put on my big headphones and feel awesome. Though there are only two sets of headphones at my station, there are five bottles of water. The theatre wants us to be well hydrated.

8:00 : The series of three racist Muppet jokes are made. The first is booed. The second gets an even louder boo. Peter looks over at the producers, who all simultaneously make a gesture at him that clearly says, “Move on, move on!”

8:15 : Mo over shares about the Queen. PJ over shares about his drug history.

9:30 : The show ends. Peter reads the credits. Which include my name. All the producers turn to look at me and grin. I cannot help but grin back, knowing that my name will be heard by 3.5 million people.

10:00 : I hover for a while on stage, then follow several of the producers out of the theatre to the VIP cocktail longue where the local NPR station is holding a cocktail party for donors. The VIP cocktail party is the closest I have ever felt to being in an episode of Chuck. There were tuxedoed waiters roving with champagne, low lighting, jazz music, and Carl Kassel. I kept waiting for a Ring attack.

10:45 : I have proved that I am the best minor ever, as I was unquestioningly allowed into a party with alcohol, and have spent the past forty-five minutes in a room full of people offering me champagne and not ingested a drop of it.

11:00 : We take a cab back to the hotel. The driver is definitely Transylvanian. PJ meets us in the lobby and tries to coerce us into going for a drink.

11:15 : I arrive in my hotel room, and think to myself, “What a good day.”

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