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January 2011 Archives

Hungry Princesses: An Interview with Peggy Orenstein

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Last night at Target I thought a lot about Peggy Orenstein. A bestselling author and contributor to the New York Times Magazine, Orenstein is perhaps best known as a girl culture commentator. From the “Confidence Gap,” to the identity-cementing effect of Facebook on teenage girls, Orenstein is both fascinated observer and wise critic. Her new book, “Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture,” offers an invitation to pause for a breath and examine the increasingly sexualized, appearance-centric culture in which girls are raised.

But back to Target. I’ve written here before about my conflicted relationship with all things girlie. I’m a feminist and pop-culture skeptic, but if it’s hot pink or slathered in sequins I cannot look away. So last night, even as I found myself sucked down the pinkety-pink Barbie aisle, entranced by heart-shaped Valentine’s Day dinner plates, and enviously examining flouncey red lace mini-skirts in the girls department (If they’d made clothes like that when I was a kid, I wouldn’t have resorted to wearing my mom’s silk slip to school.), I thought of Ms. Orenstein and wondered. Did Cinderella eat me too?

Our Town What was your purpose in writing “Cinderella Ate My Daughter?”
Peggy Orenstein I liken my approach to the food movement. Ten years ago, who knew from trans fats? Now, because of a couple of books, because somebody started the conversation, we’re more aware; we know there are physical health threats. I wanted to start the conversation about the rise of this girlie girl culture that encourages girls to define themselves by appearance. It’s a very personal book because it’s about my daughter, all of our daughters.

OT Your discussion of Disney Princess play and its possible impact on girls as they grow drew the attention of a Disney spokesperson who called you absurd and said in part, “little girls experience the fantasy and imagination provided by these stories as a normal part of their childhood development.”
PO It is developmentally appropriate. That’s what’s pernicious about it. Girls (and boys) are really focused on asserting their gender when they’re that age. They hook onto whatever culture provides that’s most extreme. At one point, it was dustpans and brooms, then baby dolls; now it’s focusing on becoming the fairest of them all. It’s great that Disney feels they have to respond to me-they’re that threatened. Their response that princesses help girls expand their imagination? Nothing says expanding girls imaginations like pink Disney princess mouse ears with a tiara and a bridal veil.

OT As girls mature, how exactly do their playthings impact their self-image?
PO There’s this way that little girls are encouraged to confuse self-absorption with self-confidence. My daughter got a make your own messenger bag kit for her birthday. It has all these iron-on transfers: hearts, flowers, stars, ones that say “brat,” and “spoiled and pampered princess.” And she said, “Mom why would anyone want that on their purse?” I call it Girlz with a Z culture: Bratz and Monster High dolls, toys and movies that promote the idea that the way you show you’re confident and powerful as a girl is to look like a Sesame Streetwalker.

OT You cite studies connecting young girls playing at sexiness with older girls experiencing body image issues. What’s that about?
PO With all this emphasis on play sexiness at unprecedentedly early ages, girls don’t understand what they’re doing. It becomes a performance and maybe they never learn to connect to their internal feelings and grow up seeing sexuality as something they perform for others. This blew me away: I talked to a researcher who asked teenage girls to describe their feelings around arousal. They responded with how they looked. She had to tell them looking good isn’t a feeling. Girls are going through puberty younger; they look like adult women at younger ages, so they need protection from being sexualized too soon.

In the Bleak Midwinter

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Isaac Resnikoff's Modern House

Seeking a stimulating distraction on a cold winter night? Look no further than Columbia College’s Glass Curtain Gallery. With the days slowly lengthening, but the solstice a fairly recent memory, curator Justin Witte presents “Midwinter,” an exhibition highlighting the work of artists grappling with the idea of darkness, from absence of light to the invisible or hidden. LA based sculptor, photographer and artist Isaac Resnikoff, one of many artists featured, added his input to Witte’s in a conversation with Our Town.

Our Town Why “Midwinter?”
Justin Witte I think we often avoid what is unknown or taboo. Midwinter is not focused on anything sinister or morally dark, [but] instead on the times between the events, experiences and seasons of our lives. Most compelling is the idea that what is kept in darkness can be a rich source for contemplation and creation.

OT What goes into curating a show?
JW I focus on finding a balance between an idea that’s relevant [but not] overly thematic. I prefer to loosely frame an idea [allow it to] evolve during my discussions and studio visits with the artists in the show.

OT How do you choose artists?
JW First I go to some of the artists I know and talk about the idea and ask for names of artists they think would fit. Then I set up studio visits [so] I can see the work in person and get a sense of the ideas behind the work.

OT Isaac, you work in several mediums. When inspiration strikes, do you know how you’ll express it?
Isaac Resnikoff I once read an interview with a writer who said that they liked to think of their ideas as airplanes, circling a landing strip. They all circle for a while, but eventually every one comes in to land, while the others are still circling. I like that, and I think it's a good way to approach working in different mediums without feeling locked in to any one.

OT Are there specific themes you revisit?
IR I guess I want my work to represent a sort of "potential space." The piece I'm showing in "Midwinter" is a print of the framing of a wall. I want the viewer to see the structures around them as built, and therefore transformable, things. These structures can be buildings or political systems, but the sense of agency should be the same.

OT Justin, what attracts you to an artist’s work?
JW I enjoy subtle work that resists a quick read. For example Craig Yu is a painter in the Midwinter show. At first glance his painting appear the product of spilled paint, but [then] you begin to notice Craig has added a large amount of detail with fine marks in the piece as well as developed rich contrasts between paint surfaces. The more time I spend with this work the more complex and rewarding it becomes.

Home Alone

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Mostly, I work from home. Enviable, sure, but my motto is, why dwell on the positive?
Telecommuting, from the old Latin meaning ‘three days, same clothes,’ has a whole slew of pitfalls. Just off the top of my head, I count five:

1. Listening to the dog bite her nails all day. Sounds like she’s part woodpecker.

2. Proximity to peanut butter. I’ve reformed, but not too long ago I couldn’t keep a jar in the house without eating the whole thing and having to call in sick to work the next day. Office job work, not telecommuting which is Greek for only makes contact via facebook. I limit myself to a few spoonfuls now, but I never forget that spreadable temptress is waiting.

3. Distraction via housework. Even a year ago I might have pooh-poohed this very serious issue. But when my biological clock ticks, it sounds like laundry being folded. (You have to listen carefully to hear it). I still don’t want kids, but man do I love to iron.

4. The compulsion to break for yoga. What’s ninety minutes, I think. Besides, the dog gets so caught up watching me she forgets to bite her nails.

5. Reality television. I don’t have cable, so it took me longer than most to rope this bucking bronco, but a few months back I hit some sort of tipping point. I’d been hearing the name Rachel Zoe for years, and suddenly I had to know more. Although it meant watching the show in eight-minute increments on Youtube, I made it through four seasons. Turns out, Rachel Zoe was my gateway drug. Next came the Kardashians, available on Netflix instant. (Khloe is my favorite. I’m happy to discuss.) Then, just because I could…"The Real Housewives of New York City." Before I continue, a clarification: I don’t watch TV rather than work. I do both at once. Don’t judge. I still spend a fair amount of time waltzing with my muse, but some of my writing jobs involve entering data, editing press releases, all activities that have been scientifically proven to benefit from having skinny women with New York accents shouting in the background. Cheaper to hang out with the housewives than move to New York.

It was in this way I came to learn about a Ms. Bethenny Frankel.

Dolly Parton works Nine to Five on her Birthday

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I love Dolly. Not “Hello Dolly” star Carol Channing who I’m terrified lurks in my basement. Dolly Parton, responsible for songs as diverse as “I Will Always Love You,” and my personal favorite, the haunting “Jolene.” Dolly Parton who starred in the 1979 movie, “Nine to Five,” which I watched no less than fifty times when I was in junior high. Sure, I could have been out developing my interpersonal skills, but then what would I have done in my late twenties when everyone else was getting married? Besides, what at the time felt like social failure, in retrospect looks like a self-initiated education in comedy and feminism. “Nine to Five” is a tight, smart gem of a movie, still tart and relevant even in 2011. While its enduring significance is largely due to the caliber of its three female leads, the script itself is trenchant and witty, aiming to educate and entertain.

When I heard “Nine to Five The Musical” would hit Chicago for a limited two-week engagement, I was jazzed…and dubious. While plays like the aforementioned “Hello Dolly” have been making the journey from stage to screen, the film to live musical flip is a recent phenomena. “The Producers” managed it. But for other movies/plays, particularly those submerged in nostalgia, the transition comes less fluidly. (“Dirty Dancing The Musical,” go to your corner!) Perhaps lazy writers bank on a viewer’s tendency to insert her own memories into a given work. Perhaps nervous producers fear a film’s plot won’t withstand the move to stage. Whatever the reason, nostalgia alone cannot carry a play.
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Inside the Bank of America Theatre, I was greeted by a brightly colored scrim decked in a late 70’s motif. Pictures of Cher, Charlie’s Angels, references to The Scarsdale Diet, all boldly beckoned. As the lights dimmed and Dolly Parton took the stage to introduce the show, I hoped for the best. Inexplicably introduced by Illinois Governor, Patrick Quin, Dolly sparkled in a calf-length spangled dress. Characteristically charming and sassy, she described her reaction to being asked to create the score for "Nine to Five." “I’ll try anything,” she said, adding, “if you like the show, tell your friends and if you don’t, keep your big mouth shut.

Thus my dilemma; I’d be roughly two hundred words under my count if I respected Dolly’s wishes.

Words That Kill

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I’m a fan of combining the contrasting: Cottage cheese and French dressing, unexpected, yet delicious; plaid and floral-print, if they share a palette, why not? Sarah Palin and erudite discourse … well, some things just don’t mix. Others, however, beg to unite. For example, comedy and poetry, a union masterminded by Fyodor Sakhnovski and Mojdeh Stoakley (pictured), the brains behind Words That Kill, a monthly poetry/comedy/performance mash-up. The event is just one of the many exhibitions produced by Sakhnovski and Stoakley’s collective/company, Lethal Poetry. With WTK’s third season launch party set for Thursday, Jan 20th, Sakhnovski spoke to Our Town about his event’s aim and inception.

Our Town What inspired you to combine comedy and poetry?
Fyodor Sakhnovski Bringing more than one creative community together always seems to enhance and excite the experience. Comedians and poets live in separate worlds, and people who may be really into comedy might not even experience [Chicago’s] rich poetry community. Many may have prejudice against the other form of expression, so it's a chance to expose artists to one another.

OT Any memorable past performances?
FS Comedian Scott Derenger performed with us several times, but during the first was blown away by performance poetry, so much so that he forgot his own set. It was really funny and kinda precious. I guess he hadn't been to a performance poetry show before, and thought he was booked to perform at some boring monotone reading. We were also one of the last stages where the late Kent Foreman performed after a long hiatus from the Chicago scene.

OT Why make Words That Kill an all ages event?
FS Historically Chicago is a 21+ city. There are a lot of talented youth who need a place to express themselves and learn, but the best is when some 17 year old can teach a 50-year-old how it's done! Age doesn't define talent - but if you nurture it when it's beginning it will only get better.

OT Tell us about your new space.
FS creative lounge CHICAGO is a particularly beautiful gallery. We’re most excited [that] it's in the heart of Wicker Park, a neighborhood which has an history of nurturing the spoken word community.

OT What can we expect from your next shows?
FS This month is a rapid fire retrospective of several of the best performers from our previous seasons, [including] Marty McConnell, HBO Def Poet, Emily Lake and others. Then we'll dive into our main showcase section with our "super feature" Amy David, who has represented Green Mill in 3 National Poetry Slams! Also, Keith Ecker, co-host of Essay Fiesta - another charitable literary event. There will be refreshments for the guests, free wine (for those 21+), and DJ Limbs will be spinning all night! In February [look forward to] poets and comedians lamenting strange, or entangled relationships! This is not a Valentine's love celebration.

Catch Words that Kill Thursday, Jan 20th and every third Thursday of the month at creative lounge CHICAGO. Doors open at 7 p.m. Admission is $5 or free with canned goods donation.


A freelance writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum, when not writing, supports herself as a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago's Story Studio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She’s kind of looking forward to it actually. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez

In January, Drinking Horchata

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In my defense, it’s been a slow month. With the Christmas tree in the alley and the New Year’s champagne gone flat in the fridge, now begins the sluggish slog toward spring. Not even toward, a word denoting purposeful speed. Rather, vaguely in the direction of while wearing boots so heavy they seem dipped in concrete and a thick coat that obscures sight and sound; layers of clothing which, when removed compel friends to comment,
“Wow, you’re way thinner than you look.”
To which I respond, “I’m sorry, I can’t hear when my glasses are fogged up.” True and strange.

Amidst such aggravation, the smallest events give one a thrill. To whit: a week or so back, I received an e-mail, subject line: “Horchata Revolution !!!” Apparently a new type of Horchata is scheduled to hit Chicago in late January, but I’d been selected to take a sneak peak. This is just the sort of glamorous perk you too can anticipate should all of your blogging dreams come true. Who am I kidding? I was instantly psyched; my correspondent had me at Horchata. The three exclamation marks didn’t hurt either; I admire a man who’s emphatic about his ethnic beverages. Though I took a moment to ponder the ethics of accepting his offer to send me a product sample, in the end, moral integrity isn’t my strong suit, at least not in below zero weather when I’ve exhausted every card game I know. Besides, can something made of rice really count as a bribe?

Fast forward to yesterday when an ottoman-size package arrived. Inside amidst a serious quantity of Styrofoam, were three oversize cans. (I’ve helpfully included a photo if you cannot envision this. The down-the-shirt-shot is unintentional; I looked like a cantankerous rhesus monkey in every other picture.) Inside the cans was…liquid rice pudding, and I mean that in the most delicious way possible. Seriously. I just had to take a break from blogging and have another sip.

Spotlight on Musician Jay Mathes

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Chicago singer/songwriter and guitarist Jay Mathes is obsessed. Love, human redemption, inadequacy and forgiveness, are all topics to which he returns, mining his life to create art. Although Mathes got a taste of mainstream approval when he was selected to play at a Wisconsin Gap as part of a nationwide simultaneous performance, he’s still working toward his big break. However, he continues to forge ahead, focused on making his voice heard.

Our Town Describe your sound.
Jay Mathes Guitar-driven pop/rock with memorable melodies and lyrics that resonate with the human experience.
OT Was performing always a goal?
JM I didn't consider music as a career until high school, didn't even know how to sing. On a whim a buddy of mine said, "Hey, let's sign up for choir, that way, we'll have at least one class together. Plus, I've heard there are a lot of chicks." I began writing songs seriously the same week we started classes. [But] the big shift to performing started when my parents bought me my first Harmony-brand electric guitar, for my thirteenth birthday.
OT What inspires you?
JM I try to read a lot, classic literature and poetry. I listen to a lot of music; I get outdoors, rock climbing and camping. Oh yeah, and I drink a lot of coffee and beer, but not necessarily at the same time. I try to write every day, just write about whatever [I’m] experiencing or thinking about. Recently, what has come out has been pretty dark. This has been a period of real struggle for me, particularly pursuing music as a full-time income source.
OT So no day job?
JM Until March of 2010, I taught private guitar lessons. Week in and out, I was telling my students to follow their dreams, pursue their passions, and do something with their lives. It was time for me to take my own advice. Little by little, I'm eating in to my savings account [but] I have to believe all of my investments in my music, not just financial, [but] strain on relationships and time away from family, [will] pay off. In the meantime, my wife is pulling in more cash than I, and we're making it work as best we can. My situation is not common; I have a unique opportunity to put time into my music right now, a real gift from my family.

SketchFest 2010

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This weekend marks the beginning of Sketchfest 2010, a decade old event that claims to attract the best in local, national and international performers. Held at Stage 773, the fest also offers children's programming, workshops, networking opportunities, and other special events. This year, with more than one hundred sketch comedy groups performing over two weekends, actor/comedians Colleen Murray and Robyn Scott will be front and center, presenting the live component of their new pilot, “Darcy & Tess.” Both “corporate actors” and comedy scene veterans, the two discussed their newest venture with Our Town.

Q You’re both corporate actors, what does that entail?
A We both work for Second City Communications, a corporate services divisions. We work with clients who need various services ranging from training and development to live entertainment to industrial films and voiceover.
Q What made you two team up?
A We got to know each other through Second City, got along really well as friends and have the same comic sensibility. We thought up these characters and wanted to develop them, and that ultimately led to creating this pilot.
Q What assets do you both bring?
A We’re both very flexible and adaptable to change. We each have a lot of really funny friends and resources in Chicago’s comedy community. And as performers, we’re both very willing to take risks with our characters.
Q How did the pilot evolve?
A It came from our original idea of two friends trying to run different businesses to make it in a bad economy. Then we expanded upon that so that we could give them an origin story to give their experiences meaning and context.
Q What’s your writing process like?
A We wrote the entire thing together, side by side, visualizing and creating each scene. We were always in the same room and we truly did equally create every piece of it.
Q What are your hopes for it?
A We’d love to see it on TV, but we’d be happy with it on the web or on your butt. We don't care as long as people see it and enjoy it. We just hope it finds its niche and it tickles people’s fancies.
Q How did you become involved with Sketchfest?
A We both had performed in it in previous years and knew it was a great festival that we wanted “Darcy & Tess” to be a part of. Colleen’s previous Sketchfest performances included “Moist,” a hit sketch show that went on to be feature at the HBO Comedy Festival in Aspen.
Q You’ll be performing elements from your pilot. How did you go about converting the material to a different medium?
A Everything we wrote was from an improvisational core, so we were able to pretty easily go back and adapt for stage. Parts that would be fun to play live, we could just reformat to a live sketch performance.
Q What can audiences expect from your performance this weekend?
A You can expect us to play multiple characters, expect a multimedia experience, and hopefully expect to laugh a lot. You can also expect to see us both in mustaches, and maybe even a roller skate routine.

The duo perform Saturday, January 8th at 6 p.m.

A freelance writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum, when not writing, supports herself as a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago's Story Studio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She’s kind of looking forward to it actually. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez

Chicago Crush of the Month: Emily MacArthur

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Welcome to 2011, a time for new beginnings (a really stupid word pairing when you think about it). This year, I’ve resolved to strive for balance and moderation. For example, instead of sitting in a desk chair, trolling facebook five hours in a row, I will sit on one of those balance balls. If I get the urge to eat an economy size bag of pita chips, I will have a moderator yell at me while I do it. Simple, achievable goals are the secret to sustainable change.

Take my crushes. Perhaps I’ve seemed overzealous in the past. Even “scary” as the beautiful redhead I followed into an alley last week accused. From now on, I’ll endeavor to be a kindler, gentler fan. I’ll do this by offering handkerchiefs and foot massages to those I approach. Speaking of tantalizing offers, I tried to get the first crush of the New Year to wear a diaper and a top hat. Sadly, I was denied. But enough about my sex life.
Please welcome Emily MacArthur, a shiny new crush, for a shiny new year.

Hometown: Park Ridge, IL
Profession: First year Art Therapy student at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Hobbies: skiing, painting (houses and canvases), curling, bagpiping, bottle blowing, motorcycling, camping, biking, drinking, metal working, hockey.

Our Town Bagpiping is an unusual hobby. Why did you start?
Emily Macarthur I guess to be different. In the mid eighties, my parents researched our Scottish roots, and we went to a Highland Games where I saw all the pipe bands in that day's competition play en masse. It was such a powerful sound that I wanted to learn. My mom looked for a band [with] young people, which turned out to be the Midlothian Juniors, run by the highly respected Ian Swinton. Unfortunately she got mixed up and enrolled me in lessons with a total hack who also a bit pervy [but] eventually, I made friends with people that knew better. With their help, I’ve been slowly improving for twenty-one years.
OT Any amusing piping experiences?
EM [During] the seventeen-year cicada summer a couple years ago, I was competing with [the] City of Chicago Pipe Band on a polo field in Oak Brook. [In competitions], you have to play together in a circle, standing like wooden soldiers when it's one hundred degrees and you're covered in wool and your knees are shaking. Turns out the frequency of a bagpipe’s drones is the same as a cicada's love call, so every time we played, the cicadas would descend. [When] I felt something on my ass, I thought, "Oh, please let that be sweat,” but sweat doesn't crawl upwards! Damn thing wanted to mate with me.
OT How do you find time for your varied pursuits?
EM I've most of my hobbies on the back burner while in grad school, [but] last month I performed with the St. Luke's Bottle Band to raise money for an orphanage near Juarez, Mexico. I just learned to weld so I've been playing around with metal work. My family is in a manufacturing business, so I can play my pipes in our shop and dig in the scrap bins, think about getting my old Kawasaki running, that kind of thing. I go bonspiel-ing (a curling tournament) one or two weekends a year, which is about as much as my liver can handle.

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This page is an archive of entries from January 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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