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November 2012 Archives

50 at 50

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As Etta Worthington’s fiftieth birthday approached, she found herself struggling to transform dread to optimism. Then, she says, the answer came to her. She would do fifty new things throughout her fiftieth year. What’s more, she would make a film chronicling her experience. The resulting documentary, 50 at 50 screens December 1st at The Illinois International Film Festival. Worthington spoke with Our Town about her film.


Our Town What inspired you to create 50 at 50?
Etta Worthington I was a little apprehensive about [my] birthday. I knew that I didn’t want my fiftieth year to be a downer, so I searched for something to make it positive. And then it came to me: I should do fifty new things in my fiftieth year. I considered writing a book about it, but something about that didn’t seem quite right. No, I wanted to do something more dynamic. I would record this journey with video and make a documentary about it. The first thing was to make a list. These were not things I had always wanted to do or thought I should do—not a bucket list. Instead, it was a list of things I hadn’t done and, for some reason or other, seemed interesting.

OT What surprised you about the project as it evolved?
ET How this simple idea took over my life, and in a way, redefined me. I have to confess: I was also surprised at how much time and energy it took. One of the things I have learned for sure is that it takes a great deal of stamina to be a filmmaker.And although this wasn’t on my list of 50 new things, making a feature was definitely a new thing for me. In fact, starting on the journey of making this was the start of a career change.

OT In what ways did the project take you out of your comfort zone?
ET For one, I am somewhat acrophobic, so I intentionally included some things that involved heights. People ask me, did you jump out of an airplane? I confess that I didn’t. I figured it might take me a year of therapy and I only had a year to shoot the film.
But I did go on a hot air balloon ride. I climbed up and patched my roof. I slid down a fire pole. Mortality figured into the film as well, even though I wanted this to be a very upbeat year. A close friend was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and so one of my new events in the year was taking her for chemo. There were some things that I did that were scary for me for other reasons. Getting a tattoo was one of those things. Also getting all my hair shaved off. Both of those I faced, wanting to back out—but when you have a camera person there ready to shoot—well, you don’t suddenly decide to go home.

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Chicago’s renowned Magic Cabaret grew out of a desire to perform smart magic in an intimate setting. In 2007, magicians P.T. Murphy and David Parr were inspired to “create a place where people could experience magic the way it's meant to be experienced — not on a TV screen and not in a tiny window on YouTube,” says David Parr. Since then, the two have more then met their goal. Their Magic Cabaret delivers a weekly live magic show to eager Chicago audiences. Parr spoke with Our Town about how to personalize an illusion, the meaning of “Chicago Style” magic, and what real magicians think of David Blaine.

Our Town Historically, what’s Chicago’s link to magic?
David Parr Many prominent magicians have lived and worked in the Windy City. At one time, there were five magic shops in the downtown area. But what is most significant about Chicago is that it was the birthplace of a new style of magic. Matt Schulien, a mountain of a man with a boisterous sense of humor, was the chief pioneer of this style. In his bar and restaurant, Matt performed magic up close, on the bar top or at the dinner table, and the audience was an important part of the show. What magicians called "the Chicago style of magic," in which the performance was not a spectator sport but a shared experience, spread throughout the world. The big touring magic shows have gone the way of the dodo, but Chicago-style close-up magic is still thriving in every corner of the globe — and at The Magic Cabaret on Wednesday nights.
 
OT As a magician, who are your influences?
DP I was seven years old when I started reading books about magic and learning basic sleight of hand. I saw Doug Henning about five years after, first on TV and later in his live show. Watching Doug enchant an entire audience made me realize that magic was something one could do as a full-time occupation, something one could devote one's life to. One could become a magician. I could become a magician. The key to Doug's ability to connect with audiences was sincerity. His "magic is all around us, nothing is impossible" persona wasn't a put-on. That's who he was. It didn't matter if that came across as a bit kooky. What mattered was that we could sense it was genuine. I also appreciated that his shows — even his live shows — always included close-up magic, which I knew required serious dedication and practice. Ray Bradbury was another big influence, one of my childhood heroes. At around the same time as I was getting into magic, I encountered Bradbury's writing — The Illustrated Man, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The October Country, The Martian Chronicles. Those books, those stories, were so important to me. Bradbury wrote about the fantastic with such clarity and directness that it became believable. These days, I'm an editor for a magic magazine and I write scripts for my shows, and I honestly think that much of what I know about writing was learned from reading Ray Bradbury's books.

OT You’ve written two books about magic, can you talk about what inspired you to do that and what the books entail?
DP I'm fascinated by the creative process, which often happens on an intuitive level that's invisible and mysterious. It's a bit like magic in that way. Where do ideas come from and how do they grow? Writing a book for magicians was a way for me to take apart my creative process and examine it from new angles. There's that old saying, "We learn by teaching. By teaching other magicians some of the material I've created and performed over the past couple of decades, I was able to see my work in a way I'd never seen it before. I learned some interesting things about the way my mind works and what motivated some of the creative choices I've made. And I hope that reading about it will encourage other magicians to examine their own creative process and develop an understanding of how it works.

OT How do you make an illusion distinctly yours?
DP Magic, to me, is not only a way to share an experience of mystery, it's also a means of self-expression. Everything I perform conveys information about who I am. Many magicians have performed the effect in which a handful of salt vanishes without a trace. When I performed this effect in The Magic Cabaret, it was part of an explanation of how to kill a zombie, inspired by an episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, one of my favorite TV shows when I was a kid. A magic effect is like a song that can be interpreted in many different ways by many different musicians. My aim, in choosing how to present a particular illusion, is for the people in my audience to get a sense of who I am as a person, not just as a performer.

The other day I swung by Walgreens, looking for an anniversary card for a couple who’d made it to their 50th. Instead I found this:

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It occurs to me that the solution indicates the problem in this instance. If your communication skills are sufficiently poor such that you turn to Hallmark to choose your words for you, yeah, your relationship probably is ‘troubled.” Still, the specificity of the offerings inspired me.

Every generic Holiday Gift Guide out there might urge you to buy dad that silky tie with the lighthouse motif, but this year Our Town offers up gift options as unique as your friends and loved ones. Not only that but they’re all Chicago-made. Take a gander. But only with his consent. That was a livestock joke. Because we here at Our Town are pretty unique ourselves.

The Our Town 2012 Holiday Gift Guide:

For The Recently Divorced Yogi-Bibliophile: A copy of Chicago Writer Jac Jemc's spare novel about a man fixated on his wife's disappearance will make your friend's relationship woes seem negligible.

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For best results, combine with 21st Century Yoga. Edited by Chicagoan Carol Horton, this anthology offers a multi-faceted examination of yoga as it exists in the Western World today.

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For the lesbian who claims to be adventurous but in reality requires a professional to curate her sex life: Chicago's Early to Bed created this unique bi-monthly subscription service which provides subscribers with a hand-picked selection of thrilling items.

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For the small child or illiterate adult: Whether you're learning to read at at six or forty-six, this fine art print by Chicago artist Chai Wolfman will delight and educate.

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In 2010, Michael Peck’s wife heard "The Little Drummer Boy." At Burrito House. In November. For Peck, this meant war. Some friends of Peck’s had already made a game of avoiding the song, and Peck was inspired to dub the pastime “The Little Drummer Boy Challenge” and create a Facebook page for it. From there, things snowballed. First The Village Voice gave the challenge a mention, then The Onion’s Av Club caught wind. This year more than 650 ‘fans’ are playing along. Peck spoke with Our Town about the whole goofy endeavor.

Our Town How does the challenge work?
Micheal Peck It’s fairly simple: Just don’t hear any version of the song from Black Friday to the midnight before Christmas Eve. If you do—in a restaurant or store, on your iPod, wherever—you’re out, and you post where, when, and which version did it to you on the Facebook wall. It doesn’t get any more technical than that, but it’s important to remember that no one can take you out on purpose. So if your brother plays it intentionally or sings it to you, it doesn’t count. You have to be exposed unknowingly, without malice.

OT What sort of responses has it gotten?
MP It’s a range. Some people think it’s some sort of anti-holiday or anti-shopping statement, which it isn’t. Again, it’s merely a goof that requires absolutely no talent or practice. I tend to do best at such activities, and so do a lot of other people, apparently.

OT In terms of annoying Christmas songs, there are so many apt contenders. Why "The Little Drummer Boy?"
MP It’s not the obvious choice, I’ll admit. In fact, I kind of like it. (The honor of most hated holiday song would go to “Jingle Bell Rock,” particularly the Hall & Oates version; “Wonderful Christmastime;” or “Up on Santa Claus Mountain.”) But it’s a curiously reverent song about a kid who’s asked to come and bang on his drum for a newborn. According to him, anyway—there’s never been any proof that anyone asked him to do any such thing. I mean, as any new parent will tell you, up until about eight weeks or so, there’s nothing a baby who’s just been brought into the world enjoys more than hearing a nice, loud drum. Still, it’s a pretty song, I think, which makes it kind of funny to make it an object of dread.

OT What’s your earliest memory involving the song?
MP That’s probably a toss-up between the father of a friend playing the Johnny Cash version and the Rankin-Bass special, which still freaks me out because of how dark it was. After years of talk therapy, I still haven’t come to terms with the donkey being run over. Also, I’m pretty sure I caught the Bing Crosby Christmas special the first time it was on, when he did the duet with David Bowie. That remains one of the strangest holiday moments I’ve ever seen, trying to square Aladdin Sane/Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie with Der Bingle, but I actually like that version.

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Drag queen Pandora Boxx may not have won RuPaul’s Drag Race, but she’s gone on to lead a life entertainers of all stripes might envy. Né Michael Steck, Pandora has since appeared on RuPaul's Drag U and RuPaul’s Allstars Drag Race, and performs throughout the US and abroad. In Chicago this weekend for a gig at Spin, a soft-spoken Steck took the time to grab an iced tea and discuss Pandora’s comedic influences, deliver behind the scenes Drag Race gossip and offer his side of that whole Mimi Imfurst debacle.

Our Town Looking at your life before and after RuPaul’s Drag Race, what’s the biggest change?
Michael Steck (Pandora Boxx) Before I was a video editor for a local TV station and I did drag on the side, and I’m an entertainer now. It really has allowed me to travel all over the country and to different countries. There are certainly prices to pay for this kind of life. I’m trying to find the right way to say this, I’m very thankful. I love what I do, but it’s not as glamorous as everyone expects it to be. Like, the travel and the exhausting schedule isn’t something I thought of when I was getting into it.

OT People always seem so judgmental when celebrities claim exhaustion. And maybe some of them are just going to rehab, but when you look at a performer's life, exhaustion seems like an inevitable byproduct.
MS Right. I don’t think people realize. If you’re doing a TV show you could be shooting for sixteen hours straight. Even on Drag Race, we’re there from nine in the morning to ten at night. And half of that day sometimes is standing. It’s painful enough to be in heels, but to stand onstage for hours? So, performers passing out from exhaustion? Totally possible. I live on the West Coast now, but a lot of the gigs are on the East Coast, so I take a red eye in, maybe get a nap, do the show, the show ends at two a.m,. then I get on a six a.m. flight and fly to the next show. Drag numbers aren’t too long onstage, but you get someone like Lady Gaga or Madonna onstage for hours, constantly moving and singing and doing costume changes; I’m blown away they can even do that.

OT You mentioned being onstage at Drag Race for hours. What are the actual time-frames for challenges?
MS They purposely make it look like we don’t know how long we have. And sometimes we don’t because we don’t have phones or--there was a clock on our wall, but it was a RuPaul clock and it didn’t work, which I find kind of funny. Like, oh you better NOT werk, RuPaul. They’re always saying time’s running out, but then you have another hour or something after that. But you still believe it the next time they say it. They just want that rush. But the eliminations are a full day of standing there in heels and being judged by everyone because every judge says something about every contestant.

OT Obvious question, but what’s that like?
MS It’s terrible. It’s awful. None of us want to be judged and you go out there thinking you’ve done something great and you find they didn’t like any of it. Any time I saw any contestant be bitchy or talk back to the judges, I thought it looked really bad. So, me, I just didn’t say anything or I’d add something funny at the end, but after a while it was like, okay, are you going to like anything I do?

OT I have to say, on Allstars it looked like you took one look at Mimi and just deflated. Do you mind talking about that experience?
MS I don’t mind. It wasn’t working with Mimi because I’ve worked with her before and I’m fine with that. I was deflated because I knew in my heart that we would never go far. I knew that given the other teams and how they judge on that show and the fact that Mimi was the one person who was questionable as to why she was on that show--I think she’s very talented, I just think they added her to Allstars for the sake of controversy-- I just saw the outcome. I saw all the work I put in and I felt like my chance of winning was gone. So yeah, I was totally deflated, but when we did the challenges I put all my effort in. I mean, I made out with Mimi. People are like, she gave up and I’m like, um, did you see my tongue in Mimi’s mouth? That’s not giving up. That’s one hundred and twenty percent effort. And we had fun in the challenges. The makeup was an issue. She just wasn't listening to what I was saying.

OT I still don’t know how to put on makeup, and I don’t have to do it for an audience, but I feel like giving up the control of doing your own make up would be a big deal.
MS Yeah, it’s a big deal, and it’s a time crunch. We decided to do our makeup how we normally look. And I explained to her how to do my lips and she made them into a triangle. It was like, did you listen to any word I used to describe how to do my lips because you did exactly the opposite? And then by the sixth time of not even coming close to what I was explaining, I’m getting angry and frustrated and we’re running out of time and I haven’t even started her face. And then I kept thinking, maybe it’s me, maybe I’m not communicating well, but then looking back I don’t think I could have explained it better. But then after that it was fine. She looked like herself, I looked like a sad clown who had been punched in both eyes, but I went with it and we had fun.

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You’ve seen Keith Ecker around. Journalist, teacher, co-founder and host of Essay Fiesta, Ecker makes his presence known. Now, he’s teaming with the equally omnipresent Samantha Irby of "Bitches Gotta Eat" fame to create a new Live Lit series, Guts & Glory. He spoke with Our Town about Essay Fiesta’s future, and what to expect from Guts & Glory.

Our Town What originally made you want to take on the responsibility of creating a reading series?
Keith Ecker I started Essay Fiesta after spending a number of years in Chicago's comedy community as an improviser, stand-up and sketch performer. Although I enjoyed making people laugh, I began to have an urge to peel back some of my jokes and explore my topics with a greater mix of humor and poignancy. I also have a journalism background, so I've always gravitated toward writing. But I didn't want to do a traditional reading series. I'd seen author readings before, and I found them to be really dry and boring. So I conceived of a show where artists from across genres could read personal stories with a dramatic flare.
 
OT How did you decide to step down from Essay Fiesta?
KE My co-producer, Alyson Lyon, approached me earlier this year about stepping down from the series. At first, I considered continuing without her, but I realized that the magic of Essay Fiesta,grew out of our collaboration. So we mutually decided to pass the baton to two new producers, Willy Nast and Karen Shimmin. They are the blonder versions of Alyson and me. They're a fantastic duo. The show will have a hiatus in December, and they'll take the reigns in January. I believe I'll be a guest at that show. It depends if they book me. (They better book me.)

OT What’s different about your new series?
KE First, the new series is co-hosted by the amazing Samantha Irby. The two of us have a vibe all our own that's more in-your-face and aggressive than Essay Fiesta. The mission of the show is different too. Guts & Glory aims to challenge its performers to take a personal risk, whatever that means to them. We want our storytellers to really reveal themselves on stage. If you're not scared when you're sharing, you're doing it wrong. Essay Fiesta certainly had some of that, but that wasn't a priority. For me personally, I wanted the opportunity to share some of the stories I wasn't able to share at Essay Fiesta, stories that are more adult in nature. I always have said that Essay Fiesta is a strong PG-13. Guts & Glory has already jumped way over the NC-17 line. But to be clear, it's never purely to shock. At the heart of Guts & Glory is a desire to communicate and connect on a universal level. It just so happens that the stories often focus on the darker or more embarrassing aspects of life.

November's Runner: Amy Sutton

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Age: 38

Day job: Retail Manager

Why do you run? I started running after my brother's suicide.  I was depressed, overweight and didn't know how to make a positive change in my life.  One January day, out of complete desperation, I put on my old running shoes, an unusual assortment of layers, and ran.  I liked how it made me feel mentally and physically, so I did it again.  I forced myself to run two miles a day every other day for 8 months.  Right around the 8 month mark, my body began to crave the run, and then it wanted to go farther.  Since my first run I have regained my mental health, lost 40 pounds and worked my way up to running a half marathon.

How long have you been running? Since January 2009. 

What makes someone a runner? If you get out there and run, no matter the speed or distance, and then do it again, you are a runner.

Miles per week: 20-30

Mile time: 8-10 minutes.  If I run by myself - 10.  With others, I will keep up.  Basically, I don't care how fast I go, I like to take in the sights and sounds of what's around me.

Races you’ve competed in (if any): Fleet Feet's Rudolph Ramble and Turkey Trot - in costume!  Also, the Hot Chocolate 15K - a favorite!

Favorite running route(s): I love the North Shore Channel Trail.  You can make it as short or long as you'd like and you can detour into some great neighborhoods. 

Best run: Anything with beer at the end.

Worst run: Something with poorly planned/executed hydration.

Do you run with music? I don't - I like to hear what's going on around me.  I tend to zone out and need all the help I can get hearing cars, dogs, people etc.

Top Running Songs:  When I did run with a Walkman (yep, back in those days), I only ran to Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever.  The whole album is perfect.

The Treadmill-- Discuss. I've never used one.  I run outside, year round.

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Les Palmeraies

You guys trust me right? I’ve been doing this for something like two years now (Remember when I tried to earn money by inviting you to attend a haunted house at my apartment? Or when I nearly died taking a Bikram yoga class? Man, we’ve had some times together.) Anyway, by now you know I would never accept a bribe in return for promoting an event or person. (I’m talking to you, Rahm! Get off my stoop!) But if I have one weakness, it’s chocolate (And peanut butter. And anything pink. And Robert Downey Junior). So when I heard that The Chicago Fine Chocolate Show and National Chocolate Show was open to the public, I was anxious to learn more. Not only did I speak with Event Director extraordinaire Jeneane Ally about the upcoming Navy Pier Extravaganza, but I also managed to finagle an invitation. I'll report back with photos. If you lick them, you still won't be able to taste what I'm hoping to taste this weekend, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try.


Our Town What makes this particular show unique?

Jeneane Ally There is no [other] dual consumer and trade show dedicated to chocolate that currently exists in the U.S. Buyers, sellers, and consumers will all be gathering in the same space. Each of these groups has different needs, and the Chicago Fine Chocolate Show and National Chocolate Show ensure that all of them are fulfilled. There are opportunities to access every part of sales process, from manufacturing and packaging to chefs who utilize chocolate in their creations to the consumers who buy the products. It’s not very often that these groups come together in the same venue.

OT What are some highlights from the show?

JA We are thrilled to partner with such an elite pastry school as the French Pastry School, and some of their award-winning pastry instructors will be demonstrating how to make professional quality chocolate confections and crafting incredible chocolate sculptures. It’s also exciting to have a gathering of fabulous chocolatiers and chocolate artists from across the nation. [The show will] showcase their products to help them garner some well-deserved exposure in previously untapped markets. Finally, I think that the conference sessions and seminars will be a huge draw, as attendees can learn about a variety of aspects of chocolate, with high quality speakers sharing their knowledge of a both the big questions and exciting, unconventional topics. They’ll be discussing everything from making small batch chocolates to the origins of chocolate to its health benefits, and even more.

OT What sort of interactive demonstrations can attendees expect?

JA The consumer seminars provide an ideal small setting for demonstrations with many opportunities for interactivity. Attendees will be able to interact with experts like Beth Kimmerle, a candy maker who works with the Land of Nod to create amazing children’s candy kits, as she teaches about making candy in your own home. The French Pastry School will conduct larger demonstrations onstage on how to make chocolate marshmallows, truffles, brownies, and more—in the future, we hope to make these a fully hands-on experience. 

OT Tell me a little about the pairing pavilion. 

JA This is a concept we would like to grow and evolve as the show does, because it exposes consumers to different chocolate combinations and helps them choose the types of product that are most appealing to their palate. Clay Gordon, an incredibly knowledgeable chocolate critic from The Chocolate Life, will be on hand to work directly with consumers to help them choose and define their tastes in chocolate. For example, they may know that they like dark chocolate but not how to critically read a label in the grocery store to make an informed decision about which product they will enjoy the most. The pairing pavilion will be a great place to learn and expose people to flavors the may not have tried before, with the added bonus of pairing them with beverages that they might encounter, say, on the menu at a restaurant during the holiday season.



OT Perhaps most essential: Milk or dark?
JA Both!

The event event runs Nov. 16-18. Learn more here.

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I'm hoping for another chocolate gun this weekend.

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah 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.
IMPORTANT: the official Our Town site doesn't support comments. Join in the conversation by following facebook.com/OurTownBlog.ChicagoSunTimes and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
and Facebook.

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With a PhD in exercise physiology and a masters in kinesiology, it’s no wonder Dr. Jason Karp has achieved a national reputation as an expert on running, training and fitness in general. In early 2013, he’ll be making a stop in Chicago to bring his expertise to an upcoming runner’s convention. He spoke with Our Town about barefoot running, avoiding injury and why he loves women runners.

Our Town Why do you run?
Dr. Jason Karp A complicated question, but running is a part of who I am.  It gives me an outlet for challenging myself and for finding out what I'm capable of.

OT Why has running gained popularity in our culture?
JK It's the most accessible sport. Anywhere in the world, people can walk out of their front door and run. People are also desperate to lose weight, and running is the most effective physical activity for weight loss.

OT What made you decide to write Running for Women?

JK I love women! From a coaching perspective, I'm interested in how women's physiology influences their training and how they can capitalize on that. The book grew out of an idea I had about training women around their menstrual cycle. At the publisher's suggestion, it turned into a book on everything concerning women, including menopause, older runners, pregnancy, injuries, and nutrition, in addition to all the training.

OT Are women that different as runners?
JK Yes. They are different anatomically, metabolically, and hormonally. They have a lot of issues that men never have to deal with, like the monthly fluctuation of hormones in their menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause. Those differences influence their physiology and how they should train as runners. The components of the training program are the same for both sexes—aerobic base training, acidosis threshold training, aerobic power (VO2max) training, and speed and strength training. The differences lie in the program's subtleties. Unlike a male runner’s training program, which may only need tweaking based on fatigue, rate of adaptation, and outside of running circumstances (work, family, etc.), the female runner's training program incorporates more adjustments based on fluctuations of hormones and other female-specific conditions. The female runner's training program must always be open to change, moving a workout here or there based on how she feels, or backing off on the training load altogether when certain conditions arise, like amenorrhea, pregnancy, or anemia. The secret is knowing how and when to manipulate the training variables to optimize the work and maximize the results so she gets the largest return on her investment. So, while a female runner still does the same types of workouts as her male counterpart, she should do them in a way or at a time or even emphasize certain things that allows her to get the most bang for her buck and avoid injury.

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Photo by James Minchin III.

Rocker Melissa Etheridge hits Chicago November 10th for a gig at one of her favorite venues, The Chicago Theatre. She spoke with Our Town about everything from her pre-show rituals to her emotional evolution.

Our Town You’ve said “I write songs for people who drive in cars,” what’s your favorite song to drive to?
Melissa Etheridge Oh, man...my favorite driving song is "Hollywood Nights" by Bob Seger.

OT In terms of your own songs, you’ve been writing since you were ten. How has your writing process changed?
ME It’s definitely changed since I was ten. The process is kind of always the same. It’s from inspiration and inspiration comes from all kinds of different places--I can sit down with a guitar and just play and that inspires me, or it can be lyrics that come to me, or a situation, like, “oh, I want to write about this,” it can be a rhythm, a painting can inspire a feeling in me. After I’m inspired, I just have to be alone with my instrument to write. That’s all that’s required.

OT On the new album, “A Disaster” seems to be about someone so caught up in their anger over a relationship’s demise that they refuse to acknowledge its positive aspects. What was your inspiration?
ME It’s no secret what I’ve been going through the last couple years. “A Disaster” is just me throwing down the white flag, saying you know what, let’s just call this. Let’s say, this is horrible, it was awful, and let’s walk away. You can’t fix it. No more, she said, she said; let’s just call it a disaster and move on.

OT Is letting go of things something that’s gotten easier for you over the years?
ME Yeah, in that I’ve realized that the sooner you can let go of things, the sooner healing can happen. When you’re hooked into them and you’re reacting over and over, you just stay in that and you can’t get over it. So letting go, taking a deep breath and saying, “that’s the past, it is what it is and I can’t change anybody else. I know my truth and where I’m standing, so I’m just going to let that go.” That took me a while, but it keeps me happy now.

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November’s Writer: Aileen Keown Vaux

My genre: Poetry and short fiction

My literary influences: I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a reader (thanks to Laura Ingalls Wilder and Dr. Seuss), and though they got me started, I now count Raymond Carver, Sharon Olds, William Carlos Williams, Cormac McCarthy, Laurie Moore, and Walt Whitman as my literary influences.

My favorite literary quote: of all time comes courtesy of Ira Glass and, I’m sorry, but it’s as lengthy as it is true.
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

My favorite book of all time:
is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Dystopian, feminist fiction? Don’t mind if I do. Did I mention I’m a real riot at parties?

I’m currently reading: The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry vol. 1. That’s totally normal, right? And I’m also working through Geek Love by Katherine Dunn.

My guilt(iest) pleasure book:(s) usually have some sci-fi/horror elements. Have I read all of Stephen King? Maybe I have. And maybe I have.

I can’t write without: a little distraction….I need to people watch, listen to music, sit in a cold room, etc. If I’m conscious of “oh, I’m a writer now, doing my writing” the wheels fall off.

Worst line I ever wrote: I recently cleaned out my last remaining possessions at my parents’ house and discovered about fifteen spiral bound notebooks that I filled with angst and longing as a teenager. The best line from the bunch: “I may not be the master of time or fate, but I know that we are each other’s destiny.” Hmmmm, “MAY not be the master of time or fate?” I like that I leave a little room for possibility in that statement.

Brief Bio:
Aileen Keown Vaux moved back to Washington State to pursue her MFA in poetry. She’s currently an assistant managing editor at Willow Springs and creative writing/composition instructor at Eastern Washington University. She misses Lake Michigan intensely.

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah 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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Well, I’m writing this from a hotel room in St. Louis, and I have to say right from the get-go (or maybe gecko) that Katy Perry was 100 percent correct when she wrote “That’s what you get for waking up in St. Louis.”
Debaucherous night, let me tell you. Not only was I in my hotel bed by 10 p.m. but I really pushed the envelope and watched one of those restaurants-are-filthy-but-an-Englishman-on-steroids-can-fix-them-right-up-by-yelling-at-the-owner-and-firing-a-line-cook-and-then-everyone-is-grateful-and-cries-shows. Such a transformative viewing experience. I’m thinking I may skip my reading tonight at Subterranean Books and just watch that show about Cajun people pawning things instead.

On the subject of readings, Chicago--look out. First time YA novelist Lisa Jenn Bigelow reads this Saturday at The Book Cellar. Her first novel, Starting From Here is out and Bigelow spoke with Our Town about creating a relatable narrator, balancing her work as a librarian with her passion for writing and why LGBTQ teens need to see themselves reflected in literature.

Our Town What was your initial kernel of inspiration for the book?
Lisa Jenn Bigelow It was two kernels popping together. There's an unfortunate stereotype in literature that all dog books end with the dog kicking it. Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, etc. I decided I wanted to write an "anti-dead dog book." Instead of the story culminating in the dog's death, a near-death experience would be the catalyst for the rest of the story. I had a side character from a short story I'd written—a girl who'd lost her mother, whose dad was away working as a truck driver, who was doing poorly in school. And I thought, she could really use a good dog.



OT How long did you work on it?
LJB That’s hard to answer. From the time I started writing it to its publication was about seven years, but most of that time I was waiting to hear back from agents and, once I found an agent, editors. Writing the first draft probably only took about six months, with several rounds of editing to follow. Publishing can be an excruciatingly slow business sometimes. Even after the book sold to Marshall Cavendish Children’s Books (which was subsequently acquired by Amazon), two and a half years passed before the book came out.

OT I want to compliment you on the very relatable voice. Did you go through drafts getting to know what your narrator sounded like, or did you sort of hear her in your head right away?
LJB Thanks! For the most part, Colby's voice was clear in my mind—outwardly sarcastic and tough, inwardly tender and raw. But there was still a lot of tweaking throughout the editing process. It was important to make readers sympathize with her in spite of her jagged edges. Humor helped, as did letting her vulnerability show. My editor was also meticulous in finding inconsistencies—places where Colby sounded too mature, too country, even too masculine. There's nothing like an inconsistent voice to rip readers out of a story.

OT How do you balance your writing work and your career as a librarian?
LJB It's a challenge. Finding the time isn't a problem so much as finding the energy, especially in winter when the days are so short. I'm extremely diurnal, and if the sun is down, I want to be asleep. I try to take an hour to write before or after work, but it doesn’t always happen. On the other hand, a plus to being a librarian—aside from simply enjoying the work—is that keeping up with industry news is part of the job, so it dovetails nicely with writing. And, of course, I'm constantly surrounded by inspiration.

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