Night at the Green Mill

Last Sunday evening, I was rushing to find an artist’s date for the week. Luckily I remembered while looking for ideas the weekend before, that the Green Mill had a slam poetry night that Sunday. I checked to see if it was a regular thing, and sure enough, it was! I’d always meant to go since I moved to Uptown, and it was only a ten minute walk for me.

When I first walked in, I didn’t know what to expect. My focus was initially on the dim lighting, the hum of conversations from the booths, the people seated at the bar. I circled the bar and became frantic as I realized all the seats were taken. I gave a sigh of relief as I found folding chairs leaning against one of the tables, and sat myself at the end of the bar. Now, I was able to focus on the nostalgic feel of a bar from another era, the walls in faded golds like an old movie theater. I could truly see myself in the 1940’s. A waitress interrupted me to let me know I was blocking the waitress area, and seated me at the end of the front row tables. I got a clear view of the front stage, where a jazz band was playing beneath a “Green Mill” sign in green light up cursive letters. My heart skipped at the thought that maybe I had come at the wrong night, that the website had been outdated and this was actually jazz night. As a precaution, I asked the woman next to me if this was in fact slam poetry night. I’m glad I did, because not only did she reassure me, but she also introduced me to the scene. It turns out Julia was one of the organizers, and that this week’s theme was the “French Connection.” People from France actually flew in to participate in poetry night! I was in awe. It was nice to make a friend to talk to and laugh with, and who welcomed me to the community. Julia is a woman in her forties, with short layered hair and a smile that lights up her whole face. Her laugh is infectious, and she reaches out to touch your shoulder when she gets excited and wants to tell you something.

It was interesting because I was sitting so close to the guy next to me that I couldn’t reach into my pocket without bumping into him. I apologized and got embarrassed, and after that I could tell that he kept wanting to talk to me throughout the show. I overheard him speak french, and thought he might be a part of the French Connection. It wasn’t until the second intermission that he did. He sat down next to me and segued smoothly into conversation, which was good because I felt awkward. I found out he was a French Brazilian who had lived here in Chicago for four years, and saw him in a different light. He had side-swept hair, glasses, and a trace of a mustache on his upper lip. He also had a bit of an accent. He wants to move to a different country, and since he has a lot of friends in Africa, he thinks he will go to Tanzania and some other places. I wish I could so easily say that I was moving to a different country. After finding out I came here alone, he also added me on Facebook to let me know if he and his friends were going to any more shows, as he used to go alone too. He mentioned being nervous about his poem about the CTA, and hoping the judges were from Chicago or it might not make sense. I was confused before I realized that he was participating in a slam poetry contest.

People here were friendly in general, as during the first intermission, when the seats cleared between us, one of the girls from the open mic slid over next to me and introduced herself. She had short poofy sand colored hair, a red infinity scarf, and a lovely smile. She said she was born in France and “moved over here when I was just a tadpole.” I remember her poem was something about pink flamingos rising from the grass with their consumer farts. It was fascinating to me how many new people I was drawing in simply for existing, not ever for doing a reading. It did seem like this was a community where old timers knew all the words to the intro songs and the ending songs, and newcomers were welcomed alike.

The night was broken up into three parts: open mic poetry, French and English translation performance groups, and slam poetry contest.

Open mic opened with a “virgin” reader named Samantha. She opted to use the band, which plays along to the beat of the poem, and told them to play something spooky Halloween-y to match her poem that says Trick or Treat a lot in it. Next, a more seasoned older man with a white beard wanted to read about Chicago violence and blood on the streets. “We’re off to a great start,” the host joked. Next was a woman named Emily, also a long timer, who made a poem based on a conversation she had with a French painter who had survived the Holocaust. Among the first timers was also a girl who lived in Seattle, who quit her job and moved to Chicago because she had a dream that told her to come here. There was an African American who read about the current political state and a relationship with girl. There was an old timer Hispanic who was allowed to read two poems, both seeming to revolve around bilingual speech, love and music. There was also a funny Polish guy who asked for gypsy Fleetwood Mac polka music, as his first memory revolved around listening to Fleetwood Mac with his dad. He read about the first memory of his father, who he thought was going to heaven, hell or prison. He was worried about his boy’s first memory, but decided that either way it wouldn’t matter, because they would remember singing to Pantera, the way he had listened to Fleetwood Mac with his father.

Part Two was an overlapping performance of English laced with French, where they spoke lines between and over one another in order to do both language versions of the poem.

Part Three involved the slam poetry contest. The first guy was Zee. His words went very well with the music, as though they had rehearsed, and he spoke about his blue jeans and how “I’m leaving” the girl. Next was Bruno, who read about “Just another day in the CTA.” The third was the winner, an older man with glasses who request French cabaret music in honor of the French guests. His was very comical, about birds love making going “COO COO” and at one point he scared us all when he said he’d shoot them and go “BANG BANG  BANG.” “COO COO.” The next was called the laptop poet, speaking of meditation with an ambient music background, before he got snapped off stage. The last was a stout blonde girl who wanted French war music, as her poem concerned this time period.

In all, I’d say it was a very successful artist’s date!




Strange Catalysts (the Artist’s Way)

In “The Artist’s Way,” Julia Cameron mentions that synchronicities might begin to appear in one’s life, things might begin to change, and creativity might become unstuck. I came into this with the sole intent to revive my writing inspiration. Instead, I’ve achieved a different kind of transformation. I did receive small manifestations–from a free chai latte, to a one dollar meal (my childhood favorite of arroz con platatanos/rice with bananas), getting the opportunity to collage over my ugly notebook cover, and receiving a stem of tuberoses and eucalyptus. When I went on a spontaneous lunch adventure, I found Elizabeth Gilbert’s book on creativity, which mentioned all my fears, the need to let go of our worries so that we can be open to ideas when they come. Also at the time of trying to let go of a negative situation, I ended up accidentally getting into long conversations with the Afghanistan doormen at my apartment building, specifically on letting go of the past and just living in the moment and enjoying the present.

Even though I have not found a speck of inspiration more than when I started, I have opened myself up to mini adventures, having spontaneous conversations and making new friends. Last week I had a major revelation that the reason I was being so hard on myself was because I wasn’t perfect. Instead of recognizing that logically, I felt it deeply. It seemed so ridiculous, because no one is perfect! How could I expect that from myself? How could that be a prerequisite to being worthy of my own love? Two days later, a friend showed me a book she was reading by Brene Brown, and I knew I had hit the hammer on the head. This revelation shook me up, because my defense mechanisms of self hate were fighting back harder, to keep myself protected. I had created the defense mechanism to protect myself from the scrutiny of others, and to motivate myself to work harder to achieve. But at some point, it became detrimental because I became paralyzed. Nothing was happening.

At this time I became ravenous for the next few days, with nothing satiating my hunger. I wasn’t sure if this was another defense mechanism, or a backlash from my medication which had previously been suppressing my appetite. In my desperation, I was thinking of a way I could add more starch in my diet, to keep myself satiated. This led me to several YouTube channels and articles on being able to eat in abundance on a vegan high-carb starchy diet. So I figured–why not, I have nothing to lose. Apparently I am now going to become a vegan. This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while (I was vegetarian for 7 years and pescatarian for 1), but never really knew how to achieve that without severely limiting my options and making sure all my needs were met. Now I think I’ve found a way, and I’m going to try it. This is completely insane! Again–not a speck of writing inspiration has come into my life–but, I’m making both minor and major shifts. I’m wondering if anything else will happen, or what my life will look like at the end of the 12 weeks. While it concerns me that I’m not making any progress as a writer, I’m looking at the things I’m beginning to do- draw, play the guitar, cook again for the first time since March! Not planning a thing for my weekend and yet having long spontaneous and meaningful conversations with new friends. It might not be a lot, but something is happening.

David Bowie Exhibit, December 2014

One of the first things I knew I had to do when I moved back to Chicago was go to the David Bowie exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. It struck me that I had never actually been to the MCA, despite growing up in the Chicago area for 18 years, and living in the suburbs again for another 1.5 years. Sometimes it’s true that a tourist will get more out of the city than a local. A mere two weeks after moving, my love for David Bowie would not let me miss the chance to see his exhibit. I ended up connecting with Steph, my sister’s best friend as well as mine, who had visited me when I was in Spain. Luckily her husband and baby Cecilia were rock stars and almost as pumped as we were to go. We went around December 20th, so I even went a little early to do some Christmas shopping at the museum. This was incredibly dangerous, as I found gifts for myself, and once Steph arrived, she too fell for the perilous, three floor gift store.

Among purchased items:

Postcard of Bowie’s handwritten Ziggy Stardust lyrics

Salvador Dali Tarot (for me, normally 50 bucks online and at the Isis bookstore but for some reason 30 dollars here)

Set of 100 vintage comic postcards- for brother in law

Zipper bracelet (oh another gift for me?)

Modern bead bracelet for sister

2 Bowie guitar picks (so that Sophie and me could be twins, obviously)

*Steph found silver heart spoons and a cute rainbow zipper bag

And we hadn’t even gone to the exhibit yet. I had unfortunately bought my ticket after them since I was waiting in the store, and ended up getting the slot after them. The exhibit was so popular we had to wait two hours. Matt, Steph’s husband, was kind enough to swap tickets with me. Luckily Steph is very convincing and said we were all together, so we got to go in at the same time. Unfortunately, Cecilia had a diaper accident as soon as we got in, so Matt had to change her. It ended up taking so long that we couldn’t wait any more and started the exhibit before Matt joined us.


We were first greeted by the amazing outfit above. I knew the exhibit would be worth the 25 dollars, since Trip Advisor had given the exhibit a 4.8/5 stars, all the reviews looked positive and recommended it, and I was promised David Bowie body suits, which I admit were my favorite. But you really don’t know what it’s like until you’re there. I felt amazed listening to interview snippets while I walked about the room. It was so inspiring to hear about his creative process while becoming a musician–reading novels, becoming influenced by jazz, soaking in all his inspirations and fusing them into something new. Seeing his handwritten lyrics, hearing his struggles with life and mental illness and making something out of that. Being weird and unique and making it work for him, when everyone else seemed to want to be the Beatles or Elvis. Another of my favorites was when he described his “cut-up” technique where he cut up and mixed and matched words and phrases to make his lyrics. I could just picture him doing that with “China Girl”:

I stumble into town, just like a sacred cow

visions of swatsikas in my head

One of my favorite lyrics of all time. I felt the muse of his handwritten lyrics beaming through the glass pane and infiltrating my soul and being with its light. I was amazed by all the music videos, the suits, and the carefully depicted themes such as Bowie’s androgynous phase, Bowie’s thumbnails for a dystopian film “Diamond Dogs” similar to 1984, never brought to life. The gold outfit with a hand on its crotch (even more scandalous without it). All this and more made me feel more and more inspired to create, to be a writer. Especially when Bowie said if he hadn’t been a musician, he might have been a novelist. BAM. But I didn’t really have that thrilling fan girl moment until I saw the suit from the music video Ashes to Ashes. I almost had a heart attack and panicked with joy. OH MY GOD I’M IN A DAVID BOWIE EXHIBIT AND THIS IS THE FREAKING SUIT HE WORE IN ASHES TO ASHES ALL THIS STUFF IS HIS I AM ALMOST TOUCHING HIM BUT AHHHH!!! I definitely wanted to reach out and grab the suit. It took all of my composure not too. I was pleased to realize that I had not yet become desensitized by entertainment and the media by amazing things, that I was still capable of being blown away and flipping out like a fan girl. Heart Bowie. Heart everything you do. You are amazing.

The only thing I did not like, and would have liked to know ahead of time, was that they blocked off sections so you couldn’t go back to them. I think I actually missed a section because I thought I still had time before the museum closed, but they had blocked it off. Either way, I am thrilled to say I saw his Labyrinth outfit, movie snippets, and of course the final room with all the different styles of outfits including the colorful jazz and German era phase, the Ziggy suits all lit up at different times like TV surveillance screens all stacked up among each other. I can happily say this was the beginning of my reawakening, my desire to create, and move forward even after Nanowrimo.