Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Day 58 The Story of Yousef

When I was little I would write made-up stories about the people around me. I would read the story out loud to the person it was about and then give it to them. When I was ten years old, I wrote The Story of Yousef, which was about my very good friend's dad. Athar, who is still my very good friend, was recently going through his dad's stuff and found this. It was 1988 and I had used a typewriter. Link is to a scanned pdf file of the original copy.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Day 57 Jenn and Tony part trois or The Problem with Keeping on

Jenn and Tony were first featured here on Day 17. On Day 29, we had a beautiful and honest reflection from Jenn on the struggles of being married, being a mother and being an artist. Today's post is an entry from Tony's blog on doing what you love.

Jenn and I had a fight yesterday, all the stress built up and led to the kind of fight normally happy married couples have all the time. Stress builds, it leads to an argument which leads to a bi-annual fight, which leads to talking about what's really bothering us, which leads to six more happy months until the next time we get frustrated with each other. (I'm 32, so I'm hoping we have about 136 more six-month fight-ups.)

But, I wonder what the kids see. If Jenn and I disagree about something, Tony Jr. immediately tries to get us to stop. We have to tell him, it's okay, mommy and daddy are just talking. We just disagree about a play. He gives us a weird look to see if we're telling the truth, then moves on to the next thing he wants to do.

I think back to when I was a kid. I never saw my parents happy unless it was something to do with us kids. With everything going on, do I stop moving long enough for my kids to see that I actually am happy? That I love their mom. Not in some abstract notion, but in the I can't imagine a day without her kind of way.

Can they see that amid all the frustrations, that I love what I do?

I know that my parents didn't. They worked so we'd have food and a roof over our head. I know the difference. But what happens if I get so caught up in the minutia that my kids don't ever see that?

It's difficult for me to keep it all straight sometimes. Jenn's joked that the past festivals have gone up primarily by my willpower. The festival and the reason behind it are things I'm extraordinarily passionate about it.

I remember the first time I got the sense that anything besides us kids had made my mom happy. I was out west on this backpacking trip/class that my high school and two neighboring schools did. (Not the whole schools, but there were around thirty kids and faculty from three schools.) We stopped in a town and there was a care package waiting for me with some goodies, snack etc, and some mix-tapes to listen to that my mom had copied for me.

I've been thinking of that a lot lately. The cancer's back. She's in chemo again.

At the bottom of that care package was a stack of poems she had written. I was seventeen and had no idea my mom had ever written anything more than a grocery list. She'd been squirreling them away for God knows how long. It was the first time I'd sensed any true joy on her part. Writing made her happy. I was seventeen before I had seen anything make her happy.

If we're so busy keeping on, how can our kids even tell the difference between what we do for them, to keep food on the table, and what we love? How can we tell the difference?

Amongst all the pain in the ass things around us, I have to remember to not gloss over the reason that I do it. When I'm filling out stacks of paper work, or reviewing a grant application, or trying to help directors cast fifty plus roles, I have to remember that I'm not doing it for money. That all the work I do on the festival is my way to connect my mom's dream, what made her happy, with my daughter's potential, what might make her happy. I love what I do, who I do it for, and who I do it with. I hope my kids can see that. And I hope my mom has a chance to see the future festivals and can see that too.

The Alcyone Festival 2010 opened last weekend and runs through February 27. This year's festival celebrates the work of Maria Irene Fornes, featuring four Chicago premieres and a Pulitzer finalist in rotating repertory.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Day 55 Eddie and Mary

Eddie is a great comic artist and fellow 100-day pledger. This is the story of how Eddie and Mary got together.

Eddie and Mary met when they were 16 years old. They were both taking a creative writing class during the summer at Edinburgh University in Scotland.

Eddie: We were from two different schools across town. Me from a well-to-do middle class school (called Boroughmuir), her from a slightly less well-to-do middle/working class high school in Portobello, Edinburgh’s seaside area.

Eddie wore baggy jeans and long curly hair, and looked to Mary like a sexy hobbit.

Eddie: We got on well, chatting about films and music. It was that time in your life when you’re discovering all these cool things. I was raving about bands like Eels, The White Stripes and The Pixies, Mary about The Manic Street Preachers and Radiohead.

When Eddie introduced his current girlfriend of six weeks to Mary as a ‘friend’, it became obvious to everyone that he really liked Mary. Eddie and his girlfriend at the time spent all their time making out.

Eddie: It was extremely physical, though never arrived anywhere (I was promised Bra removing lessons, but never survived that long). But Mary and I just clicked on some other level. We were friends first, and I was really attracted to her. Mary was the kind of girl I wanted to be around.

Eddie’s girlfriend realised what was going on before Eddie did and dumped him, telling him he should go out with Mary. Eddie and Mary continued to hang out as friends. Eddie was hooked on Mary’s kindness and her intriguing personality. She was a mystery to him.

Eddie, at sixteen, was socially awkward and had no self-esteem, but he did have a game-plan.

Eddie: I had this long-game dating technique where I segwayed from being friends to going out. All it took was to spend time with a person and flirt and then one day hold their hand!

And so Eddie courted Mary. True to form, they spent time with each other, flirted and one day after talking about Eddie’s family and his grandpa’s mental illness, they held hands. A few days later, Eddie went in for the kill.

Eddie: On the beach, in the October cold I decided to make my move and kiss her. I was nervous and inexperienced and made a complete mess of it. Mary kind of scarpered off, probably shocked by exactly how awful a kiss it was.

Mary liked Eddie a lot, but it was nothing compared to the intense feelings she had for her ex-girlfriend who had broken her heart. Mary had never forgotten her and had almost come to the conclusion that she didn’t like men. Eddie, who had come to like Mary a whole lot by then and who was up for a challenge, persuaded her over the course of a few hours to give him another shot.

Eight years later, Eddie and Mary are living together in Edinburgh. Over the years, they’ve discovered just how much they have in common and have grown to become best friends who really like being around each other. Mary introduced Eddie to comics. Eddie helps keep Mary happy, and he’s become a great kisser.

Mary: we mesh together in a really great way, and our relationship always feels really special. I often get those bursts of love, you know when you just realise you love someone soooo much, even though they are doing something really mundane, like eating broccoli.

check out Eddie's very cool 100-day pledge to illustrate a tiny moment from his past, present or future

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Day 52 Chez and Bill

Chez and Bill went on their first date eight years ago this week. They had met two years earlier in Illinois Wesleyan College in Bloomington. They had mutual friends and would occasionally hang out in college, but didn’t date then because Bill always seemed to be in a relationship.

After graduating from college, they both moved back in to their respective parents’ homes which both happened to be in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. They continued to hang out with their mutual friends, and this time Bill was single. When they were together in a group, Chez and Bill would tease one another and be sarcastic, but would have intimate, on-line chats on instant messenger well into the night. Chez would come home and look forward to signing on instant messenger, hoping Bill would also be signed on. One night, he made an off-hand comment that if Chez knew how to throw a Frisbee forehand, Bill would have to marry her. Bill took Frisbee seriously.

Their on-line conversations got longer and more frequent. Bill confessed to Chez that he normally messes things up when he likes a woman, which could be a problem because he was getting to like her. That set the tone for their communication, open and honest. They went out on a date and things between them got pretty serious pretty quickly.

Chez remembers telling him that her favourite book was Catcher in the Rye. By the time she had gotten home from work the next day, Bill had gone out, bought Catcher in the Rye and had read the whole book.

Although things were going well, Chez didn’t trust it would last. She thought the first six months was the inevitable honeymoon period and after that it would all go to crap. It didn’t all go to crap and over time, things started to feel solid. Two and half years into their relationship, Chez found herself lost and uncertain about everything in her life except Bill. She was working in a domestic violence shelter and it was wearing her down, she was thinking of going back to school, but wasn’t sure what to study. Bill was the only thing that felt stable to Chez, and that’s when things between them started to feel solid.

For Chez, it was important to be with someone who understood the kind of pressure she was under working in a domestic violence shelter. When a car would cut into her way in the street and she’d get angry and shout, ‘The way white men drive is representative of the hierarchies in our society’, Bill would understand.

It was also important that there was very little drama in their relationship. It doesn’t mean there wasn’t sadness or difficult moments, but there wasn’t any drama. When Chez’s little sister, who was 14 years old at the time, crashed Bill’s new car into a dumpster Bill’s reaction was to laugh.

Chez and Bill were married in 2007. Chez has Bill’s initials ‘WJF’ tattooed on her ring finger, and Bill has ‘Chez’ tattooed on his ring finger. Bill taught Chez how to throw a Frisbee forehand and Chez has complete trust that their relationship will last.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Day 48 Christopher and Jill

Christopher had married his college girlfriend. They were together for seven years, and were divorced in 2008. This story is not about them.

After getting legally separated in September 2008, after spending a quarter of his life devoted to the wrong person, Christopher decided to brave on-line dating. was not a good experience. was better.

One of the women he met on was Jill. Their first date was a year to the day his wife asked for a divorce. Christopher and Jill met in a bar in Union Square, New York City. It was too noisy so they tried a different place across the street which was even nosier. So, they went back to the original bar.

They bonded over bad dates and decided to have dinner in a Vietnamese place in the same neighbourhood. Christopher knew Jill liked him when she started finding silly excuses to touch his arm. Christopher leaned across the table and kissed her in the restaurant and she told him, ‘I wonder what the hell took you so long’.

Christopher found Jill really easy to be with. She was very funny, she liked herself without being arrogant, and she seemed to like him a lot. In true Christopher-style, after dating Jill for two weeks, he was in love with her. He loved that she had an interesting job that inhabited a completely different job from his. He was a community organiser in East Brooklyn, she was a handbag designer in Manhattan. He loved that she didn’t take herself too seriously.

But because Christopher was hesitant to become serious with someone new, hesitant to negotiate the inevitable tensions that come with an intimate relationship, he held back. For Christopher, holding back meant reminding himself that this wasn’t that. And it meant waiting for three months to tell Jill he loved her.

Jill is someone who brings out good things for the people around her, which is exactly what Christopher needed. And it helped that she got him to dress better. Since meeting Jill he has better glasses and even occasionally wears contact lenses, and has jeans that are not circa 1995. He even lets Jill take him out shopping, as long as he has veto power.

Christopher has learnt to listen to his gut, to take things as they come and to be open to what the world throws at him. If he was being honest with himself when his marriage broke, he wouldn’t have been surprised that it did. So, he’s learning to be honest about what is going on around him, to listen to Jill, and to listen to himself.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Day 45 Justin and Beth

Justin first saw Beth eighteen years ago on Michigan street in Dearborn wearing indoor soccer shoes and thought to himself, ‘Who is that cute girl?’

Beth: I don’t remember that.

Justin: That’s because we didn’t talk then.

Beth: Well, it’s because you were desperate for a girlfriend.

Justin’s college roommate was dating Beth’s college roommate so they would frequently find themselves in the same social circles and ended up working together on a Detroit community service project. Justin tried to make a play for Beth, but Beth had just come out of a three-year relationship with a narcissist and wasn’t ready for anything.

Justin tried playing with her hair while they watched a basketball game. He tried chasing her to her bedroom one night at a party. Nothing worked. She told him as nice as he was, she didn’t want to start anything with anyone. Justin backed off. At a Take Back the Night rally on campus, Justin didn’t pay much attention to Beth and Beth was disappointed.

During that summer in 1991, Justin moved to Chicago to do an internship with the Chicago Reporter and Beth stayed in Michigan to work in Detroit. One weekend that summer, their college roommates were planning a big get-together. Justin wasn’t too sure about going, but his roommate convinced him by telling that Beth would be there. ‘Well, you never know’, thought Justin to himself and drove to Michigan.

They got together that weekend on the understanding that it would be a casual relationship. What convinced Beth to finally date Justin is that they were going to be living in different cities. Beth was graduating and moving to Chicago, while Justin still had a year to go in Michigan.

Things between Justin and Beth didn’t remain ‘casual’ for very long, but the distance between their different cities gave Beth the space she needed. Six years after they started dating, Beth suggested they buy a house together. ‘I’m not buying a house with you unless we get married’, Justin told her. And so even though Beth didn’t believe in the institution of marriage, and Justin was Catholic. And even though Beth didn’t want to be with anyone who was not pro-choice, and Justin was Catholic. And even though Beth wanted to have children and raise them Jewish, and Justin was Catholic. They, somehow, figured it all out.

Over the last eighteen years, they have grown together and gone through different phases in their relationship. They’ve lived through their 20s together, through a death in the family, and through the ordinary tribulations of life. Their relationship is the stuff that reality is made of.

Beth: I’m sorry that’s not much romance for your blog.

Justin gives Beth a playful and gentle punch on the chin.

They are married, living in their Chicago home with their two beautiful daughters who are five and three years old.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Day 33 Aboud and Tamara

It was the summer of 1998 and Aboud was traveling around Europe with college friends after graduating from Georgetown University. At the end of their European trip, after his college friends flew back to the United States, Aboud continued on to Jordan to visit for a few days.

Aboud, who was born and raised in Chicago’s suburbs, had frequently visited his family in Palestine and Jordan. But he had never seen Jordan as an adult. He wanted to spend a few days in the Middle East, but he didn’t want to be confined to family where all they would do was feed him. So, he snuck into Jordan without telling any of his family members. At the advice of his mother's, Aboud decided to stay with Aunty Samar, an old friend of his mum’s because he didn’t know her and she didn’t know any of his family.

Aunty Samar had two daughters and a son. On the day of his arrivel to Amman, Jordan, Aunty Samar's eldest daughter, Tamara, showed up from work and told Aboud he had two hours to get ready. She’d be back to pick him up so she can show him Jordan’s nightlife. ‘Oh my God, she’s beautiful’, thought Aboud, showered and got ready meticulously. He couldn't wait to hit the town with this beautiful and mysterious woman he just met.

Two hours later Tamara came back to pick him up, boyfriend in tow. Aboud’s heart sank.

Regardless, that night and for the next four days, Tamara and her boyfriend showed Aboud around, and he had a great time. They flew to Aqaba, Jordan’s coastal town, for a day where Aboud was tortured by Tamara in her bikini all over her boyfriend.

When the boyfriend wasn’t around, Aboud and Tamara would have hours of interesting conversation. He found out she was born in Beirut, had lived there during the civil war, moved to Cyprus when she was very young, and then later to Malta when she was a teenager. He had never met anyone like her.

Aboud’s four days were up and he flew back to the United States. New York, precisely, where he had landed a job. Aboud and Tamara kept in touch via email. Tamara stayed with the boyfriend and Aboud started dating someone else. And then two years later at exactly the same time, they broke up with the people they were dating. As soon as Tamara wrote to Aboud that she had stopped seeing the boyfriend, Aboud made up some story about needing to travel to Jordan and booked a ticket.

It was October 2000 and Aboud made his long awaited move on Tamara in the Dead Sea. On the second day after arriving in Jordan, he asked her to date him exclusively. He was certain she was the right woman for him, she told him he was crazy. But he was so smitten and managed to talk her into a long-distance relationship. First came the $1,000 phone bills. Then the multitude of trips to see each other. They met in Paris for a weekend in November. Tamara flew to New York to spend a month with him in December. He then flew back to Jordan in March to see her.

Aunty Samar, by this point, was getting agitated. ‘Are you going to propose?’ she demanded. Aboud made a proposal. He proposed that Tamara move to the United States with him, without them getting married. Aunty Samar flipped out. Aunty Samar finally agreed on the condition that Aboud and Tamara move in with Aboud’s mother in Chicago.

So Tamara moved from Jordan to Chicago and Aboud moved from New York to Chicago where they lived together. Three months later, Tamara’s visitor visa ran out. And so Aboud and Tamara decided to get married to keep her in the country. They got married in City Hall with Tamara in jeans on Aboud’s lunch break. And they didn’t tell anyone.

A year later, December 2001, they were visiting Jordan. Aboud, without telling Tamara had booked tickets to Hawaii for February where he was planning to propose for real. Aunty Samar had other plans. ‘You’re getting married or you’re not going back’, she told Tamara. Aboud, behind Tamara’s back, tried to explain to Aunty Samar that he was planning to propose in Hawaii. Aunty Samar was stubborn, ‘I don’t care about romance, you’re getting married before you take her out of the country again’.

And so they decided to get married in Jordan. When it was time for the Sheikh to marry them, he asked to see evidence of Aboud being single. On his way to the US Embassy to pick up evidence of him not being married, he remembered that he was married, to Tamara. Aunty Samar was very happy that they hadn’t been living in sin all this time after all. The Sheikh, after some confusion, gave them an Islamic blessing.

The trip to Hawaii turned into a honeymoon and the best two weeks of their lives. Aboud and Tamara, twice married, are living in Boston with their two and half-year old daughter, Jenin, named after the city in Palestine.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Day 32 From Letters to a Young Poet by Rilke

Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart
and try to love the questions themselves ...
Don't search for the answers,
which could not be given to you now,
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is, to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps then, someday far in the future,
you will gradually, without even noticing it,
live your way into the answer.