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August 2013 Archives

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September's Hot Writer: Rowland Saifi

My genre: Fiction. Although I aspire to something that blends genres, I’ve come to terms that I am not a very good poet.
 
My literary influences: I count among my influences Samuel Beckett, Rikki Ducornet, Margurite Duras, James Joyce, Milan Kundera, Carole Maso, Vladimir Nabokov, Georges Perec, Jorge Louis Borges, Bruno Schulz, William Faulkner, Don DeLillo, Michael Ondaatje, Virginia Woolf, Thomas Bernhard, W. G. Sebald. And, of course, friends who are writing exciting things that continually reinforce the possibilities of literature.

My favorite literary quote: “It has whizzed back an inch or two on its reel…we are only lightly covered with buttoned cloth; and beneath these pavements are shells, bones and silence.” Virginia Woolf, The Waves. That’s just wonderful, the whole book is wonderful.

My favorite book of all time: Perhaps Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald is my favorite book right now, because I find I read it over and over. The nested interconnectedness of experience and history he is able to affect in the book always amazes me. If I can’t figure out what to read, I usually just grab Rings, or any of Sebald’s novels, really. At other times my favorite books have been, in a kind of chronology, Sanitarium Under the Sign of the Hourglass by Bruno Schulz, Ulysses by James Joyce, The Trilogy: Malloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett, Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera, The Art Lover by Carol Maso, The Lover by Marguritte Duras, Museum of Unconditional Surrender by Debrovka Ugrescic, and The Waves by Virginia Woolf.

I’m currently reading: Future of Nostalgia, by Svetlana Boym, a book I’ve wanted to read for a long time and which examines the birth of nostalgia as a concept and its role in politics and art, particularly post-Soviet and exilic art. And Providences of the Night, by William Gay, which really captures something of Tennessee and the South in general, although the story is a standard kind of gothic tale.
 
My guilty pleasure book: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S. Thompson. I know, I know (shaking head). I haven’t read it in many years, but it was exciting when I first read it and it’s likely due for another look.
 
I can’t write without: My pen. I use a pair of fountain pens – a classic Mont Blanc and an antique green Schaeffer I bought at Century Pens – I mostly use the Schaeffer. I can’t leave the house without it, really. Sometimes I’ll get on the train, realize I don’t have it with me, and turn back to get it. It is an entirely neurotic and strange thing, but invariably, if I forget it, I will find myself in a situation of greatly needing it.

Worst line I ever wrote: I have boxes of bad lines and would have to create a round robin style grid of elimination to determine the worst, but likely it was something in a cover letter, a nerve tattered sentence like, “I’m submitting this story to your journal for consideration because I like the journal and hope it will be considered for next issue’s submission.”

Brief Bio:
 Rowland Saifi is the cousin of an Arkansas state champion duck caller. Not knowing how to call ducks himself, he has settled for writing. He is the author of Karner Blue Estates, a novella (Black Lodge Press, 2009) and his work has appeared in Fact-Simile, Marginalia, Bombay Gin, Livestock Review, Four Quarters Review, Kneejerk Magazine, and HTML Giant as well as in the exhibition catalogue for “Cairo on the Length,” a show by Amira Hanafi at Spoke Gallery 2010. He is the co-founder of Pinball Editions and teaches writing and literature Tribeca Flashpoint Academy and School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He has just finished a novel.

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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Dominican Republic Hardcore/Punk band La Armada may not be Chicago natives, but they’ve made themselves at home here. “We saw this great community of like-minded individuals and bands with similar backgrounds,” says guitarist Paul Rivera. So in 2007, the band relocated to Chicago to focus on creating the incisive, socially conscious music they’re becoming known for. Our Town spoke with band members Rivera and Juan Marte about their goals, writing process and why music is a direct line to social change.

Our Town Describe your sound.
Paul Rivera and Juan Marte
We found our calling in the hard driven riffs and themes that we discovered when the internet became available in the island or through whatever scarce alternative albums our dwindling record stores would carry. What we do musically is a representation of the foreign music we discovered and came to admire and aspired to make while still keeping true to the first sounds we grew up listening to-- our parents music: Merengue, Salsa, Bachata and so on. Its very important to us to bring this Latin element out in what we do. People who don't generally listen to the sub-genres we utilize consider us a "hardcore punk" or "metal" act. In reality we play Crossover music, a blend of metal, punk and so on, mixed with afro-caribbean percussion patterns and grooves. For the most part sung in spanish.

OT What went into your decision to uproot the whole band?
PR&JM As teenagers on the island, we were involved in this alternative scene, making music, putting out records, promoting shows. To put it into perspective, being part of a subculture like this in a so-called "developing" nation is no fashion statement or way to seem cool to others. There weren't and are no "Hot-topics" thrift stores, dive bars and such things. To make this music and openly express in any way that you didn't identify with the church and the "by the book" lifestyle of what is expected of you meant that you would be ridiculed and questioned daily about your motives. After a few years, we realized that it was more than a passing phase or a hobby. We genuinely cared about what we were referencing in our songs, we [wanted] more out of life than getting a job at the neighborhood bank or at one of the US outsourced call centers or free trade zone jobs. Wanting to get away from that lifestyle definitely played a huge role in our decision to move, but the heart of it was music. We lived in a small island that is divided territory with Haiti, with only one viable city to perform in. Moving out was the only way to gain access to a larger platform. So like many Dominicans, we came to the US. Now instead of just one city, we have 50 states to get lost in.

OT Why Chicago?
PR&JM Chicago came into our lives because this city has a very prominent DIY scene. We participated in various compilations albums that were directed out of Chicago and performed a few festivals where we saw this great community of like-minded individuals and bands with similar backgrounds. It was evident from that point that moving here was the smartest thing we could do. All of this sounds easier than it was when you're reading it; in reality, moving to the States and to Chicago was an overwhelming task that only today are we completing.

OT How does the group write? Together? Separately? Is one person responsible?
PR&JM Our writing process is like a production line. The rhythm section lays out what a song will be (tempo, style and length), then the guitars add more melodic elements that sometimes bring in a new perspective. Topics that are interesting to us at the moment the instrumental structure is completed will fuel the lyrical content and at that point we have our skeleton of a song.

OT How does a song move from initial idea to fully formed product?
PR&JM A song never feels complete until we play it in front of an audience. Playing a new song live is definitely a big part of our writing process. Being a very actively touring band affords us the ability to test our songs.

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Voted best personal trainer in the Chicago Reader’s Best of Chicago Poll for two years running, Melissa DiLeonardo lives up to the hype. Muscular and energetic, DiLeonardo is dedicated to helping her clients dig deep to discover their best selves. She spoke with Our Town about how she caters to her clients and her own fitness regime, plus she shared an exciting announcement.

Our Town Growing up, how active were you?
Melissa DiLeonardo Not very. I took dance lessons for over ten years and always enjoyed moving to music, but I equated sports to gym class and gym class was…traumatic. I was chubby and awkward - the last kid picked for most teams. I steered clear of physical activity (outside of dance) until high school. I tried playing lacrosse, but again I was the slowest on the team and found my coach a bit of a bully. After college I constantly struggled with my weight so I would go the gym a few times a week, but didn’t have a clue about what I should and shouldn’t be doing. When I went to The Theatre School at DePaul for my MFA, we took a ton of yoga and movement classes. Things just clicked. I started teaching fitness classes, got certified, started training, and here I am.



OT What drew you to personal training?
MD Other people. I was teaching group strength and kickboxing classes and students would approach me after class and ask me if I was a personal trainer. It made me think, maybe someday. Around that time, I had a gig at a small gym on the far north side. The owner basically told me she would give me a few clients if I got certified in the next six months. In theatre, I always felt I had to beg for work and here someone was basically handing me a job and the chance to prove myself. It was an offer I could not refuse and I am so happy I took the risk.



OT How do you go about tailoring a workout to a client’s specific needs?
MM I do my homework. Before meeting with a client, I learn about their health and exercise history. If they have injuries or chronic conditions, I research them. If they require additional support (counseling, nutritional consulting, etc.), I confer with reputable colleagues to make sure I can provide proper information and referrals if necessary. Once I meet a client, I watch and listen, and watch and listen. All the homework in the world can become useless if you don’t pay attention to how a client is moving, progressing, and feeling. Some clients want a drill instructor; others need a safe space in which to take their time. You have to gauge it – know when to push and know when to back off.



OT You say “The goal is not only to perform an exercise, but to understand why and how a given movement can affect the big picture.” Can you expand on that?
MM Ultimately, my goal is create a lifestyle change for my clients. Yes, some people want to lose 20lbs…but then what? Nothing is wrong with weight loss, strength gains, or better mobility, but typically, you can’t maintain these things unless you learn how you attained them and how you can sustain them over time. Learning how to squat properly can help give you a nice butt, but it can also prevent you from injuring your back the next time you move a piece of furniture. Most people know more about what’s under the hood of their car compared to what is in their body. I like teaching people. It empowers them over the long haul.


OT How does your yoga training inform your work as a personal trainer?
MD Yoga has made me a better trainer in many ways. Not only am I able to help clients improve their flexibility and move better, I can help them counter anxiety and tension. Stress is not good for your body and can often hinder success at the gym. Proper breath mechanics and meditation techniques can make life feel more manageable. Yoga has taught me how to slow down and recognize what is truly important. 



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Chicago writer and mom Monique Martin always wanted to write a children’s book. Then one day, her daughter made an observation that sent her on her way. Martin’s book, The Moon is Broken is out this week. The author spoke with Our Town about the book’s inspiration and her choice to self publish.

Our Town What inspired your book?
Monique Martin My daughter, Taylor. I was driving her home from a Girl Scouts Brownie meeting one evening and she looked up to the sky and said, “Look Mommy, the moon is broken!” I pulled my car over and began to write this story.

OT What was the book’s journey from idea to publication?
MM When I wrote this story, my daughter, Taylor, was about six years old. After I finished, I read it to her and she loved it. She also loved the fact that she was the star. My husband and I felt I should copyright it while I figured my next steps, however, distracted with all the day to day responsibilities of life, motherhood, work, etc., I put the project down, and copyrighting was as far as I got.
Fast forward a few years, my nephew, Brian, decided to attend college in Illinois and came to live with us. He’s a very talented artist from New Orleans. One day we were talking and I shared the story with him. I asked him if he would be interested in doing the illustrations for the book. I thought it would be a great project for us to work on together. Again, life for me and school for him came first and we never really got going.
Fast forward several years and now Taylor is 16 years old. The story makes another appearance. I know, crazy right? While on the computer searching for a document, I ran across the story. Ironically, that evening Taylor asked me, “Hey Mom what ever happened to that story?” I laughed and told her about the changes I had made earlier that day. She loved the changes and we both got a really good laugh at the coincidence. The next morning I was sitting in the coffee shop and my cell phone rang. It was my nephew calling to tell me he finally finished the illustrations for the book. The following day I was getting coffee again and I met a gentleman who owned a publishing company and I thought, “Ok Lord, I think you are telling me it’s time to do something with this story. From that day, I turned my story into an actual book.

OT What was most surprising about the process?
MM I quickly realized I wanted to maintain the integrity and have control of my work. So I decided to self publish. One of the most surprising parts of this process was how many people I encountered who either want to write or have written a book. I came across numerous folks while conducting business for the book or attempting to build a social media network for the book who were excited and extremely supportive of my own work. In fact, it was reassuring to receive such support because there were times I found myself discouraged with the length of time it took to bring my book to market. Nevertheless, the challenges of self-publishing were well worth it to hold in my hand the book I dreamed of producing.

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August's Honest Parent: Jennifer Ann Coffeen

My great parenting strength is: working together with my husband.

My greatest parenting weakness is: stress and time management.

What have you learned about yourself specifically because you became a parent?
I am more fearful  and vulnerable than I realized. On the plus side, being a parent has made me more focused and productive than before. 

What do you wish someone had told you before you became a parent?

How consuming it is. And what an effort it would be to make time for friends, your partner, and yourself. But make the time! It's really important to stay balanced.    

How often do you compare yourself to what you think other parents are doing--or what you "should" be doing?

More than I'd like to. Maybe 40% of the time? Sometimes the playground feels like middle school again. 

Describe your worst moment as a parent.

My husband and I took our first trip away from our child to NY. The flight back was delayed four hours, and during this time our son spiked a fever of 105 and had to be rushed to the ER. It was the most horrible feeling, to not be able to get to him. I stood in the customer service line sobbing. It was such an eye opening experience for me. As a parent you can never really "get away.”  I am completely tethered to this little person all the time. Our son was fine by the way, and I will never fly United Airlines again.    

Is there one thing you give yourself a pass on?
I work from home so I'm on the computer more than I'd like. But it does allow me to be a stay at home mom, so I've learned to be ok about it.  
 
How many hours out of each day do you feel like you’re being a good parent?

Well certainly during the hours he's sleeping. Let's see, he sleeps 11 hours at night and takes a 2 hour nap, so 13 hours. When a child is quietly sleeping in their room you feel like the most amazing parent in the world. 

How has having kid/s affected your sex life?

Since my husband works with Google savvy high school students, I think I'm going to skip this question.

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Football player meets singer/songwriter, that’s Chicagoan Sami Grisafe. A recipient of the Chicago Music Award for Best Rock Entertainer, Grisafe is also a leading athlete with the U.S. Women’s National Football Team. She spoke with Our Town about her new album and the parallels between sports and music.

Our Town How would you describe your music?
Sami Grisafe Provoc rock: provoking, provocative rock music. Bruno Mars meets Janis Joplin. 

OT What’s your writing process like?
SG I usually think of a concept (or as I call it, a "thesis statement") for a song and then noodle around on my uke until I find a chord, a "thesis chord" that I feel matches my statement and then build a story around those two pillars of the song. Usually the subject matter of my songs come from first hand experiences in my life; a relationship, a memory, something I’m struggling with. However, I’m beginning to write more from an empathetic place lately. I’ll hear a story and think “that needs to be heard – there’s power for change in that” and I’ll find parallels in my own life to make sure I’m giving the song the true emotion it deserves.

OT What are the parallels between sports and music? 
SG There are so many, but I guess the biggest parallel is that you have to be 100% present and in tune with your team or band to make great things happen. Each requires every individual to contribute and react to each other. Nothing is predictable and honesty and integrity mean everything.

AE What’s your favorite song off the new album and why?
SG This is difficult, because each song is special to me for different reasons. Because it's summer in Chicago and I wrote the song, “Hooky (in Chicago)” about all the great things to do in Chicago during the summer, it’s one of my favorites to play right now.  It’s a fun, upbeat tune and I love the reaction I get from the audience every time I perform it. Especially in Chicago, people request it a lot and know the lyrics so it’s fun to have them singing along. It's a fun bonus that it's getting more recognition because it was featured on an episode of "Easy Abby," a new web-series based in Chicago that has accrued over 9 million views so far!

OT If I know nothing about football, what’s the one key thing I should understand?
SG It is a game of effort and trust. This is what makes it great. Imagine each team is a group of people made up of all different sizes and skill sets. They have to work individually as well as collectively to achieve their goal. That's life and that's why I believe football is the greatest sport on earth! 

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Name: Peter Orner

My genre: Novels, Stories (literary fiction sounds like such a drag.)

My literary influences: Depends on the day. Today: Chekhov, Faulkner, Isaac Babel, Edna O'Brien, Wright Morris, Gina Berriault, John Edgar Wideman, Andre Dubus, William Trevor, Eudora Welty, Henry Green, Virginia Woolf. Tomorrow: Dostoevsky.

My favorite literary quote: "The Russian loves recalling life, but he does not love living." Chekhov,"The Steppe" Seems to me the quote is all about how the stories we tell are in some ways more exciting and intense to us than the experiences we're telling about themselves. And this seems pretty basic to the human condition: stories are our lifeblood.

My favorite book of all time: Tie: The Golden Apples, Welty, Go Down Moses, Faulkner. Two brilliant and strangely structured books, I go for books with weird structures, and these two are hard to top. Are they story collections? Are they novels? In end, it doesn't matter a lick.

I’m currently reading: The Spark and the Drive by Wayne Harrison, great new novel about cars, love, and the mysteries inherent in them both.

My guilty pleasure book: James and Giant Peach. I do take it with me on planes. For my three year-old daughter, but mostly for me. I also can't live without it.

I can't write without: a cup of cold coffee to the left side of my notebook. Also, I can't write with a computer.

Worst line I ever wrote: Just this morning, I had a character say, "Do you think the Amish are any purer than the hippies?" Not an especially great moment in literature.

Brief Bio:
Peter Orner’s new collection of stories, Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge, will be published in August of 2013 by Little, Brown. Orner is also the author of Esther Stories, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo, and Love and Shame and Love. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, Granta, McSweeney’s, and other periodicals, as well as in The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Non-Required Reading. Orner has received the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Goldberg Prize for Jewish Fiction, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and two Pushcart Prizes. Originally from Chicago, he is a professor at San Francisco State University and lives in Bolinas, California.

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