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Chicago Crush of the Month: Zoe Zolbrod

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Photo by Lisa Meehan Williams

As significant and iconic as deep dish pizza or The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, the Crush Blog has been a monthly Chicago staple since aught 2010.

But all good things must come to an end, my friends. All bad things must too, except for anytime Debra Messing’s drippy son whines his way through a monologue on Smash--that goes on forever.

But why? Why would you snatch away something so rich with tradition, so essential to our community? That’s what Rahm Emanuell asked me yesterday when I tried to squeeze by. His sleeping bag ran the width of my front steps though, which made it difficult. I definitely stepped on his finger.

I’ll tell you what I told him: It isn’t you, it’s me.

When I initiated this auspicious endeavor, I was just a crazy kid, buoyed by hope, my surefooted path lit by dreams and night vision goggles.

But friends, the bloom is off the rose, by which I mean I’ve lost my binoculars and run out of twine. The pressure to troll monthly for a new crush has broken my spirit the way I broke Rahm’s pinkie. My crushes, rather than breezy bursts of excitement are in danger of becoming mundane. So although Chicago is still full of deserving crush objects, this column will take a hiatus after this month.

And friends, you have Zoe Zolbrod to thank for all of this. It was Zoe’s answer to my last Crush Question that cemented my decision. (Run for the hills, Zoe, through the front window I see Rahm jotting down your address, though he’s forced to hold the pen in his left hand.)

Hip, funny, and totally crushable, Zoe came to my attention recently when she participated in the Essay Fiesta Reading Series. Not only is Zoe a novelist and senior editor for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, she’s a contributor to a forthcoming collection, The Beautiful Anthology, which comes out June 9th. All and all Zoe Zolbrod is the perfect end to a centuries long run.

As for the Crush Blog, it’s not goodbye, Rahm, but see you later. I’m sure a new crush will crop up now and then.

Hometown: Meadville, PA
Profession: Senior Editor for an educational publishing company
Hobbies: Yoga. Reading. Dreaming of places to go.  I wish I could say I had more hobbies. I would love to be taking lots of long hikes and interesting bike rides, but in reality my walking and biking are pretty utilitarian.

Our Town What inspired your 2010 novel, Currency?
Zoe Zolbrod I traveled around Southeast Asia by myself in the 90s, and I got into scrapes.

OT You’re also working on a memoir. In terms of process, how is memoir writing different than fiction?
ZZ Differences in my writing process are probably more greatly affected by my current time constraints than by my new genre. But the experience of working on the memoir is different because it's less escapist. I worked really hard on the novel—I did a lot of research, I slaved over the language—but I didn't have to excavate my own memories and emotions in the same way I'm doing now. With the novel I worried about whether I was representing my Thai character fairly. With the memoir I'm worried about how I'm representing real people in my life in relation to some complicated situations, and I have less leeway, because I'm trying to deal with truth—a complicated word in itself. I can get pretty sweaty over it.

OT As a parent and a writer, do you find inspiration in your family life?
ZZ My oldest child is 11, and it's only been in the last year or so that I've written much about parenting or my children. I think I've finally been at it long enough for it to emerge as a writing topic for me.

OT Any moral quandaries in terms of including your kids in your writing?
ZZ Yes and to some extent I've been doing that thing whereby I'm confusing acknowledging the quandaries with getting let off the hook. Most people don't like to be written about, and I know I'll have to answer to my kids someday. But at the same time, parenting has taken so much of me and has affected me so greatly, I can't repress the subjects it reveals. I'm trying to walk the line between respecting my kids--and everyone I know--with respecting my... well, let's call it what it is, my compulsion to explore certain themes in writing as honestly as I can.

OT An essay of yours will appear in The Beautiful Anthology. How did you get involved? What can readers expect?
ZZ The book is being put out by The Nervous Breakdown, an online literary site I contribute to, and the editors asked me if I had anything on this topic. I wrote a new piece for them, an autobiographical essay set in Thailand that relates to some of the themes of cross-cultural relationships found in Currency. In it, I talk about my reaction to a young Thai man who I found to be breathtakingly beautiful and who I met when I was not making any effort to be feminine or pretty myself. The situation set gender expectations I didn't even know I had on their head. I haven't read the other pieces in the anthology, but I know the work of some of the contributors, and I expect there will be many fresh takes on a perennial--and perennially interesting subject. Beauty is one of those things we're obsessed with but don't examine that closely.

OT Describe your perfect day.
ZZ I wake up naturally and breakfast leisurely in a beautiful, vacation-y place, and the kids are happy and cooperative. Then they go off somewhere that will seem wonderful to them. I write in absolute peace for about six hours, then I do some physical activity in a beautiful setting, maybe with my husband or one of the friends I love and don't see enough of. There's some time before dinner to spend any way I like—reading, napping, exploring, or hey, how about all three since this is a fantasy! Our family has a long el fresco dinner with close friends, and the kids are charming at the table and then go off to play in an adorable pack. They miraculously put themselves to bed with only a single kiss from us, and the adults keep talking and drinking and listening to music. And no matter how late we stay up, I have time to get eight or nine hours of sleep before morning.

OT Relationship deal breaker.
ZZ Clinginess or bossiness.

Who was your first crush?
ZZ I'm going to go with Freddie Prinze in Chico and The Man. Also, Zorro and Sindbad the Sailor.

OT Why are you crushworthy? 
ZZ Well, I get pretty excited at the thought of a good time. And I will try to pick an outfit with some visual interest if I think I'm going to have one.

OT Any questions for me?
ZZ If you go out stalking for new crushes, does it affect the sincerity of the crush? I mean, I wasn't going out looking for Freddie Prince. He found me. If I'd been turning the dial in search, I just don't think it would have been the same thrill.

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," (Soft Skull press) is available for pre-order here. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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This page contains a single entry by Sarah Terez-Rosenblum published on May 2, 2012 11:29 AM.

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