Published: Essay in Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook

Technically, this book of essays from Rustbelt Publishing won’t be out until September 10, but you can pre-order your copy today for $20 here! I’m really excited to have my work included and can’t wait to get my hands (well, mostly my eyes) on it. Following, a description of the book from the publisher:

Chicago is famously a city of neighborhoods. Seventy-seven of them, formally; more than 200 in subjective, ever-changing fact. But what does that actually mean? The Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook, the latest in Belt’s series of idiosyncratic city guides (after Cleveland and Detroit), aims to explore community history and identity in a global city through essays, poems, photo essays, and art articulating the lived experience of its residents.

Edited by Belt senior editor Martha Bayne, the book builds on 2017’s critically acclaimed Rust Belt Chicago: An Anthology. What did one pizzeria mean to a boy growing up in Ashburn? How can South Shore encompass so much beauty and so much pain?  What’s it like to live in the Loop? Who’s got a handle on the ever-shifting identity of West Ridge? All this and more in this lyrical, subjective, completely non-comprehensive guide to Chicago. Featuring work by Megan Stielstra, Audrey Petty, Alex V. Hernandez, Sebastián Hidalgo, Dmitry Samarov, Ed Marszewski, Lily Be, Jonathan Foiles, and many more.

“Connect” opening reception is Saturday!

Slate Arts + Performance proudly presents CONNECT, a new-media group exhibition featuring works by the following artists:

Joshua Eby
Robert Fowler
Erica Gressman
Joo Young Lee
X. A. Li
Sarah Leuchtner
Jackie Mantey
Sara Alexandra Pelaez
Christopher Riggs
Christopher Marc Ford
Andrew C. S.
Rui Sha

The opening reception is from 8 to 11 p.m. Saturday, April 20, at Slate Arts in Chicago’s Avondale neighborhood.

Dropping off my artwork!

Gallery statement

“Connecting requires at least two points in which a link or attachment of sorts can activate. As human beings, our livelihoods depend on how well we build and maintain connections. Relationships. Neural networks. Sound waves. Internet speed. Fibers of one’s clothing.”

Artist’s statement

I have three individual pieces in the show, a triptych entitled “Good Things And Death Come In Threes.” (Three embroidery and thread on historical imagery in 14″ x 17″ wooden and pink frames, one inch between each frame: “Red Line,” “Yellow Line,” and “Blue Line.”)

The images in “Good Things And Death Come In Threes” were sourced from the public domain of the New York Public Library’s digital archives and selected for their visual representation of tools Americans have used to send a message, themselves, or others from one place to another; interestingly, these are also tools we use to disconnect ourselves from wherever we’ve come.

The title is a nod to the folkloric connections we often make as we search for answers and try to connect our existence to something bigger than our individual selves. The finished embroidered work reminds the viewer of photography’s ability to connect us to people not of our time or place, as well as the working class inheritance of thread as a means to weave historical narrative into making a modern point. That each embroidery has similarities is a representation of how we are all connected, whether we are together or alone.

To do: Three cavernous Chicago hideaways

This winter’s cold has been unrelenting. But I still want to go out, even if it means wearing three layers underneath my heavy-duty winter jacket. Same? These three activities offer a cozy and cavernous getaway while we count down the days to spring.

Go deep inside: The Palmer House

The OG brownie is at The Palmer House, a historic Chicago hotel that Rudyard Kipling long ago described as “a gilded mirror rabbit warren crammed with barbarians.”

Today, I recommend going barbaric on the hotel’s OG brownie. It’s as decadent and rich as the golden drapery and as opulent as the soaring ceilings. The confection was concocted in the late 19th century under the direction of Bertha Palmer (watch the video below for more) for the Columbian Exposition World’s Fair in 1893. Pro tip: Get dinner at the burritos and bowls quick-service spot right outside the hotel so you don’t feel totally gluttonous after downing the whole dessert by yourself. Because you will.

Go behind walls: Dorian’s

On a recent round of The 10 to 10, we rolled into Bucktown and ended up walking to Wicker Park. We passed a boutique record shop that seemed worthy of a step inside.

It was more than a record shop, though. Hidden behind an unsuspecting “secret” doorway was Dorian’s, a midcentury mod-style restaurant, tucked away with tiki-themed drinks (and a mocktails option!), jazz spinning on the sound system, and a charcuterie board complete with pickled grapes.

Go underground: Three Dots and A Dash

At Three Dots and a Dash, go on a warm adventure beneath the city. Located in the River North neighborhood, no treasure map is required to find it: Just look for the sign in the alleyway off Hubbard and head down the dramatically lit stairwell to a dreamy tiki hideaway. At the grass-skirted bar or a cozy booth, surrounded by chic wooden fixtures and sunset lighting, order up some small bites, a cold pressed juice or handcrafted cock(or mock)tail. The team of mixologists makes its own syrups, such as falernum and allspice, to keep things fresh. The exotic combinations are designed to give even the most well-traveled tongue an exciting new taste.

‘Till a Mexican beach and a flute of sparkling juice and I meet again…

Art you should know: Dawoud Bey’s Underground Railroad photographs

Dawoud Bey is a MacAurthur Genius Award-winning portrait artist whose most moving photographs are black and white images in urban settings; however, his exhibition currently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago happens across a different landscape.

Titled, in a nod to Langston Hughes, “Night Coming Tenderly, Black” is a compilation of 25 photographs taken of places in Hudson and Cleveland, Ohio, that marked the end of the Underground Railroad.

The large-scale images are darkened to mimic the blackness of night, a time of day when it was “safest” to run. The darkness makes it hard to see what you’re looking at, inducing a sinister terror that must, when you think about it, only be .01% (if that) of the sinister terror runaway slaves felt when approaching these final stops toward freedom—a term that feels especially meaningless when faced with the final resting stop, Lake Erie and sky. Canada’s freedom on the horizon, but at what cost? How did these people ever feel free or safe or whole? It seems as impossible as swimming in the dangerous choppy waves of the photograph.

Their reflective nature is particularly Bey-brilliant. With this effect, the viewer sees themselves in the image, in this situation, both long ago and in the modern world. At first, I thought about how alone these images made me feel, no human to be found, just the potential for danger that had to freeze you in your tracks. Seeing a shadow of myself in each image, I also thought about the ways white supremacy has shaped my own understanding of the world. How its effects linger today. I thought of Flint. Of Chicago police brutality. Of my own willful blindness that contributes to modern racism.

I was moved by the titles of his images, too. A forest. A marsh. These seem idyllic to me—because they can. But in light of the darkness of these settings and the truth behind them, I understand how these words and places represented a challenge, a cover, an enemy to the people who had to escape through them without the cover of peace… or even hope… or even, sometimes, other people.

Outside the gallery is a wall of framed photographs Bey curated from the AIC’s private collection. In addition to harrowing images of the murder that racism has justified on American soil are images of people who fought back and found strength in the darkness. Their courage is breathtaking.

The landscape portraiture Bey picked to include in the roundup is also meaningful. A particular Ansel Adams image of a tree, which, in a different context, I would have mused on romantically or in a rosy awe of nature, gave me chills instead. The photograph’s juxtaposition to a lynched murder victim evoked the trauma of a tree, how everything has been affected exploited in the name of “natural order.” It’s a devastating exhibit. It’s an important one. It’s on view through April 14.

Words on the street: Feb. 5, 2019

All my word finds this month look a little tipsy-turvy! Hmm… I blame weeks of near apocalyptic levels of hibernation. Still getting back my sea legs (and steady camera hands, I guess?).

This should, instead, say, “Just wipe your tail and wash your hooves.” 😉
The wall to the left read, “No Parking.”
Some excellent copywriting/ color naming finds on a recent snowy sojourn to Home Depot, a trip in which I did very little except enjoy these carpet color titles. Shoutout to my homeboy/house husband Justin for being a more rational, practical human being and getting what we actually needed on the visit. You are forever my “Sophisticated Dove.”
“Black Ice and Oatmeal” is pretty badass. The silly decision to add “Stupendous” to this already sorta outrageous color name is everything a bored girl could ask for in the aisles of the hardware store. Thanks for that, Home Depot. And also for the sale on lightbulbs.

To do: Eat dumplings in Chinatown

It’s 4 p.m. on New Year’s Day. We’ve done nothing but watch TV in bed, eat in bed, read in bed, play video games in bed, anything that didn’t require us to leave the bed. Really, it’s the perfect start to a year in which I hope to slow down and allow myself a little more time doing exactly this kind of nothing.

This lounging has an unintended consequence, however.

We’re watching something forgettable on TV as Justin rubs my back. Both of our eyes are glazing over as his hand grazes a spot on my lower left side. This sloping hill is home to one lone hair that sprouts like a bamboo stalk in a pool of milk. It’s one of those hairs that seems to grow to its full size overnight.

Bamboo for sale in Chinatown. (Not my back.)

“Did you know you have a back hair? Like… one back hair?” Justin asks, laughing and using his fingers to seek out the thick strand’s exact location.

Oh boy, we’re both awake now. My cheeks start to flush. Then I remember it’s just Justin. (And then, later of course, it’s just a body. Just a back, a hair, an aging exterior, healthy.)

“Haven’t I told you about that before?” I say. As my instinctual insecurity unhitches, I giggle at the thought of it chilling all by itself back there. “It started growing about a year ago. I shave it.”

This sends him rolling off the bed in laughter. Literally, he falls off. Amused, I try to reach back and find the hair. It’s obviously been a while since I shaved it—I could weave a poncho with this thing.

Justin goes to the bathroom and comes back with tweezers. I lay on my belly as he plucks the lonely thing right off my back.

We inspect it together, like one does a popped zit or a tissue your nose (or whatever) just desecrated. We both determine it is thinner than it felt root-deep in the dermis, but where it lacks in girth it makes up for in length. Overall, a very impressive performance by one hair gone wild!

Next, I roll over on my back and ask Justin to do the same for the lone hair that similarly sprouts out of my chin. I’m better at shaving this one more regularly.

We giggle at each other as he lets it rip.

OK, but so these dumplings.

Intimate back and chin two-hair plucking comprised New Year’s. Chinatown dumplings *made* our Christmas Day.

This was the first year Justin and I stayed in Chicago for the winter holidays. Partly because we were so over traveling by that point in the year and didn’t want to spend 12 hours in the car again. And partly because we were hoping to purchase a condo over the holidays and wanted to be around to vulture something up if it came on the market.

We didn’t. Purchase a condo. But what we did establish a new Chicago Christmas tradition: Dumplings for dinner at Qing Xiang Yuan.

Best. Dumplings. Ever.

Take it from me. Or “Check Please!” if ya nasty.

I had recently eaten at QXY with a dear friend. She ordered for our whole party. Don’t you love when that happens? I do. Going to a restaurant with someone who knows where all the hidden menu gems (and, in this case, wood ear mushrooms) are buried is the BEST.

Her recommendations are now mine: Try the spicy shredded seaweed salad with chili pepper, flavorful wood ear mushroom salad (don’t look at the pictures, just do it), and grilled lamb kebab for starters. Then go straight to the dumplings. Your server can tell you which style (steamed, boiled, or fried) would be the most tasty for your combination. Order a bunch. They go fast.

On Christmas Day, we tried the pork and cabbage boiled and the beef and coriander steamed (yessss! definitely thisssss!). So delicious. So fun to eat. I love plucking them out of their little baskets, where they’re presented and unveiled together.

Like little stockings stuffed with care.

This is the only photo I took on Christmas:

The beef and coriander steamed dumplings at Qing Xiang Yuan.

I think one pic is review enough: I was too busy stuffing my face to take any more. But, Chinatown is really cool and I’d be remiss not to give you pictures from other visits we’ve taken there. Chinatown is a visual feast as much as it is a culinary one. Enjoy.

Thai rolled ice cream.
Dishes at MingHin.
Almond cookie desserts come standard at MingHin!
Lol… Look, I know this post was maybe not exactly what you expected… so here’s a distracting picture of a salt and pepper shaker from a Chinatown gift shop that will leave you with even more confounding questions. Namely: Wut?


To do: Write in CAA’s Drawing Room & visit AIC’s Thorne Rooms

A friend was picking my brain this summer for places that I go to write. Now that I’m living that good good #giglife, I can pretty much work from anywhere, so she assumed I had a hundred and one places squirreled away in my work-from-all-over office catalog.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have many exciting spots to offer up. In fact, she ended up giving me the secret gem, dream writing location: The Drawing Room at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel.

Rumor had it, she said, that this space was open to the public, and it was beautiful, and you could just go sit in there and read and write! And no one asked any questions about your right to be in the club! Or your preference of golf swing! Or if your Izod shirt was in the wash! Sorry, my club stereotypes are very late-’90s.

Nevertheless, there it sat gathering dust on my radar all fall. Like treasure I knew the route to but didn’t feel worthy enough to hunt down. I was intimidated by the bougey rep of an “athletic club” and “chic hotel” and, just, you know, the whole notion that this was a private place for fancy folks, with a shrimp cocktail concierge and warm towelette dispenser on each elevator.

Per usual, I was wrong. And I took the stairs, so I don’t know about the elevator.

My friend was right: This second floor space inside the CAA is open to the public, and reading and writing in it kinda feels like reading and writing inside a castle!

There are dark, intricately carved wooden beams, ornate leather chairs, a crackling fireplace, and snow globe-style views of Michigan Ave and Millennium Park. There’s no shrimp cocktail concierge, but there was a very friendly waiter who brought me water and coffee and snacks whenever I need it. I mean, you do have to pay for that stuff, but it’s basically a BYOB(ook) library with food and drink service.

While you’re down in that neck-warmer of the woods, be sure to stop across the street to see the Art Institute of Chicago’s Thorne Miniature Rooms.  

These are 68 itty-bitty rooms built on a scale of one inch to one foot, and they’re decorated to look like European and American interiors from the late 13th century all the way to the 1930s. AND, right now some are decorated for the holidays. Eeeeeee!

I recently went to look at the Thorne Rooms on my lunch break (giggity #giglife… I was posted up in the Starbucks across the street). While there, I broke a record for “Longest Time Spent Squeal-Clapping and Saying Oh This Is Just Delightful Over and Over Again.” 

Yes, Virginia, that is a Christmas marzipan hedgehog the size of a thimble.