Wanna Sit By Me At Lunch? An ‘UnConference’ Report

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life | 16
Kids at daycare.jpg
These kids don’t have enough agency to decide things about lunch. But they will. Image: Wikipedia.

 

I recently attended an unconventional conference — an “unconference”, as they call it.

The event was like nothing I had ever experienced and fostered both intellectual bliss and psychological discomfort. Thankfully, the bliss eclipsed the agony — but it was a close call there for a minute. Would you like to hear more? Excellent, because I have prepared more.

The conference was hosted by Google and some other very Google-y companies with which I am intimately familiar, but solely as a consumer. Before the conference, such companies were essentially faceless to me. I don’t have a cousin that works at Facebook, for example. I didn’t go to kindergarten with Elon Musk — and thank goodness, because I know he would’ve eaten my paste!

This year marked the 11th year of this thing. The 350 people who attended hopped on planes and trains and came from all over the country to get to Google’s Chicago headquarters. But those 350 people weren’t just any 350 people, oh ho! No, no: We were all on the list. Oh, yes. There was a list. Because whatever you want to call it — conference, unconference, think tank, nerd camp, slumber party for geeks — is by invitation only. First, you have to be nominated by someone who has attended in the past, then you have to apply, then you have to be selected. If all that works out, you can get your groovy nametag and it’s on like Donkey Kong.

Speaking of Donkey Kong: I think I met the guy who invented Donkey Kong.

It’s possible. Because that’s the kind of person who goes to this thing. The whole place was swarming with top brass in the fields of gaming; government digital operations; linguistics; neuroscience; the internet … There was a guy who owns and operates a yo-yo empire. I met a woman who makes the Chicago Botanical Garden the Chicago Botanical Garden. I was in a discussion group with the host of a very, very, very popular network reality television show. I attended a talk given by the UK’s leading war correspondent. I went to an “Ask Me Anything” session about the Chicago transit system hosted by the guy who is literally in charge of Chicago’s transit system. In the mix were scholars. Writers. Thinkers. Artists. Doctors. Comedians. Lawyers.

And one … whatever I am.

There were numerous occasions when I had to swallow hard and try not to cry. And I know, I know: You’ll say that I was in the room because I qualified to be in the room! Logically, I knew that. But emotionally I couldn’t get there. No matter how you slice it — and though every single smartypants person was so friendly and awesome — these people were intimidating. Many of them are also exceedingly wealthy, so there was that inadequacy going on, too. I wasn’t in my comfort zone, sister. I was in my “uncomfort” zone which does seem appropriate.

In a few different sessions, I said things that just didn’t come out right. Afterward, I would tell myself, “Fons, don’t talk anymore, just listen in the next one” but then I’d go to the next session and get so excited about the topic that I’d raise my hand and say something and that sounded stupid, too. The session I lead went okay, but okay wasn’t enough: I wanted it to be amazing. At lunch or in the hallways between sessions, I was nervous. Surely there was lipstick on my teeth. Surely I had toilet paper sticking to my shoe. I bit my cuticles so bad I drew blood — twice. I had to put a band-aid on, which made me feel like a gross weirdo with a band-aid on.

In my defense, it was a lot of stimulation and sensory overload. The conference is objectively stressful and the organizers warned all the first-timers that it would be. When I shared with my “homeroom” leader that I was freaking out, she couldn’t have been nicer and confessed that the first year she came, she left after the first day! However fancy-pants it may be, being thrown into a room with 350 strangers is a lot for anyone, she said, especially if you work from home or with a small team. I told her how I was in a pretty fragile state, too, from some life stuff, and that maybe that was affecting me. She gave me a hug and grabbed my hand and we went and got schmancy coffee from the coffee bar. Things got way better after that. I learned more in three days than I thought was possible. 

And the stress is a distant memory, now. I’m eager to volunteer to host the monthly salons local attendees put together between conferences, and, if I get to go again next year, I’ll be the first on the list to volunteer to help out newcomers. As soon as I get my nametag on, I’ll wing my way through the crowd, eagle-eyed, looking for any girl with a fresh band-aid.

The Deep Pleasures of Dryer Lint

posted in: Day In The Life, Tips | 47
It’s even got the peel going on at the lower righthand corner! Unbelieveable. Image: Wikipedia.

 

You know how I use Wikipedia for 99 percent of all the images used on the ol’ PG?

If you missed it, that’s the deal around here. I use Wiki images because they’re fair use on account of being in the public domain. I also use them because they’re often suuuuper weird, and therefore funny. I also like to be consistent.

The drawback of using a free-for-all like Wikipedia Images, however (and I’ve mentioned before), is that slick stock photos these ain’t. I’ll be looking for an image of something normal, like a bowl of cereal or a windmill or what have you, and all Wikipedia offers me are bizarre pictures of like, German bundt cakes or medical diagrams.

So this morning, I thought about how I wanted to write about dryer lint. And I thought about it all day. And then I sit down at this coffee shop to blog about dryer lint, but I pause. Because I think, “Aw, man! There’s not going to be any picture of dryer lint on Wikipedia.”

[I have never before wanted to use an emoticon in my blog so much as I do right now: I would use the face with the straight, horizonal line as the mouth.]

Because I go and look in Wikipedia and there are no fewer than nine pictures of different dryer lint situations. Like the one above. This is the world we live in! At least, it’s the world I live in. It’s very strange here.

Anywhoo, I keep meaning to write about dryer lint because I am compelled by it. Specifically, I am compelled to engage with dryer lint. When I do laundry in my building’s laundry room and it’s time to open the numerous dryers in the wall and put my clothes inside them, I get to take out the lint screen and pull the lint off — and I enjoy this a great deal. Especially if it’s real thick on there.

Wait, wait: I’m being very reserved. You need to know that I love pulling thick lint off a dryer screen. It’s so felty! And it just peeeeeeels off! In one … pad! And the slice o’ fuzz is so squinky, like you could just squink it between your fingers and it would be a ball. But then, when you let go, it would squanch back out. I like to scoop out the lint on all 10 dryer screens up there, even if I only need to use two or three to dry my clothes.

Do you know what I’m talking about? Do you feel me on this? It’s weird, maybe. But who does it hurt? No one!

If anyone else likes to scrape the lint off the lint screen, I’d like to know. If you don’t, I have one question for you — no, I have two:

  1. Do you realize what you’re missing?
  2. Did you know that, according to the experts, you really should clean your lint screen regularly to prevent … something bad? Does this make you want to try out cleaning your lint screen this very second? Go ahead. We’ll wait.

See?? And all those pictures on Wikipedia … Other people are part of this club. Now you are, too.

When Slippers Kill

posted in: Day In The Life | 9
THESE CUTE SLIPPERS NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH THE SLIPPERS OF DOOM. (Slippers of Doom not pictured.) Image: Wikipedia.
THESE CUTE SLIPPERS NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH THE SLIPPERS OF DOOM. (Slippers of Doom not pictured.) Image: Wikipedia.

 

A few days ago, I talked about how I have what could be called “home clothes.”

House slippers, a common element in your average loungewear ensemble, were not included in the description of my loungewear, however, because I’ve never been that into slippers. But just a few days after that post, what did I find when I reached into the depths of my closet to switch over my wardrobe from Warmish to Coldish?

I found a pair of slippers.

I had forgotten about them. They were your average pair of slippers. They were normal-looking, nothing suspicious. Navy blue, moccasin-style, fleece-lined with a decorative leather lacing. The soles were made of plastic. I think I got them at the Gap or something? You know the kind.

“Sweet,” I thought, and promptly put these ‘slips on my feet. Sounds good, right? Yeah, well, these slippers are trying to kill me.

This morning, I did my usual thing. I got up, prepared the tea tray, took my medicine, lit a small candle on the coffee table, and settled in for some morning reading on the couch. I was wearing my slippers and felt happy about that.

At some point while I was reading and slurping, I wiggled my toes in my slippers and, “Ah!” I said, because in wiggling my toes I broke the plastic on the bottom and stuck my whole toe through the dang slipper! And it scratched me! My slippers were busted and my toe was aggrieved. You think you’ve got a lagniappe situation and it turns out to be a real crock.

But that was nothing.

I set down my tea and reached down to my toes — hey, I’m flexible — and checked to make sure I wasn’t seriously wounded. (It didn’t look that bad but what about rabies??) I pulled off the slipper and tossed it to the side and where did it land?

It landed on the candle!

“Ah!” I cried, and grabbed it immediately, losing my place in my book and snapping the lead on my pencil in the process.

“That’s curtains for you!” I said to the slippers, and I marched them right over to the trash can. I paused over the recycling bin (which is really just a Trader Joe’s bag, let’s be honest) but I decided murderous slippers are best not recycled into a water bottle.

It has only now struck me that it is Halloween!

Who Is Leaving Chalk At the Harrison Red Line Stop — And Why?

posted in: Chicago, Day In The Life | 20
Photo and forensic-looking annotations: Me.
I’ll get more pictures. You can’t see it as well from this distance but I wanted to show you how much there is on any given day. Maybe I should start an Instagram account just for this! Photo and forensic-looking annotations: Me.

 

There’s mystery afoot!

Actually, it’s underfoot — and it’s time to blow this thing wide open. I’ve been intending to write this post for months. Here we go.

Every time — and I mean every single time — I enter or exit the southwest entrance to the Red Line subway at Harrison, fresh, multicolored chalk is present on the stairwell down to the trains. These crumbles of chalk are fresh: Without fail, random, chocolate chip-sized chunks of yellow, blue, pink, purple, and/or white pieces seem to have been (very) recently crushed into the tiles in different spots on the landing between the two flights of stairs to and from street level, every time I come or go.

Yeah, it’s weird. I know. But I’m telling you: Someone is regularly dropping colored chalk on the Harrison Red Line subway stairs.

But who? And why?

Maybe the delay in sharing this peculiar discovery with you is due to my embarrassing — okay, delicious — fear that these chalk droppings (ew) are some kind of sign or signifier for a secret society and by noticing it and then cracking the case, I’m essentially making myself a character in a Dan Brown novel: The innocent blogger heroine plunged into the sick, twisted world of…something weird.

The novel — the first in the series, of course — would be called The Chalk Leaver and I would be very, very beautiful i this novel and in grave danger, having poked my nose and my laptop into places it does not belong! There would be a smolderingly attractive, precocious-but-mercurial young man who has crucial information that could be the key to everything — but he’s trapped in the receiving room! I would be on the run from this secret chalk society and at some point, me and the mercurial young man would be trapped in an elevator together and probably kiss. The end of the book would end with me and the mercurial young man in Tuscany, seamlessly blending into a crowd on a piazza. We wear Ray-Bans and…a map. Or something.

The second book would be titled something like Chalkduster and this book would go deep into my psyche as a character but also we’d get a lot of information about the secret society that marks its paths — its secret paths! — with chalk markings. Someone would die. I’m not sure who. Not me. Actually, the main villain would die but it would be revealed that he wasn’t even the baddest baddie and now that he’s gone, the real bad guy emerges in a cliffhanger for the third book!

The third book, Chalk Is Cheap, would be the best one yet, according to the New York Times. I’d definitely almost die. There would be a new love for sure, maybe a tall German…doctor. Something like that. And some of it would take place in the Sahara so that I could wear gorgeous khaki items and Isadora Duncan-y scarves and a pith helmet. There would be something about jewels and stolen art in this book. I would definitely be able to fly a Cessna in this one.

Seriously, though, I am really curious: What’s up with all that chalk at the Harrison stop? Has any other person in Chicago who uses this stop regularly noticed this? It’s kinda driving me crazy at this point; I do want to know. It’s weird, that fresh chalk all the time.

I would like to close on a dramatic note in the spirit of the Dan Brown novel series that is clearly good enough to option for a movie by this description alone. You’re going to help with this. Please imagine me in some kind of physical peril, like… Picture me dangling off of some craggy precipice — or at least imagine me very thirsty and underfed. And I look really good and I have lipstick on. Got it?

Okay, your line is:

YOU: Why, Mary? Why did you ask about the chalk? Just… Dammit, Mary! Why did you have to go looking for trouble? You could’ve just — (You turn away and put the back of your sleeve to your face , ashamed to let me see you cry.)

ME: (Smiling, sweet and frail.) Never stop looking at your feet, darling. You know that. You never know what you’ll find if you don’t look down. I think… I think it’s time to look…down at the world, now…

YOU: (Whirling on me, you shake me; I”m losing consciousness.) NO!!!

ME: (Hardly audible.) Don’t ever stop looking…for the…pink…chalk…

[the end for now]

Laundry Symbols: You’re Welcome

posted in: Tips | 1
Tape it up in your laundry room and promptly forget you did that. Photo: Reddit
Tape it up in your laundry room and promptly forget you did that. Photo: Internet. Please contact me if this is your image.

I attended a lecture this evening where a couple universal fabric care symbols were shown on a slide. Everyone laughed because though a number of them live on many of the garments in our lives, no one knows what those laundry instruction icons mean.

The ones that should be self-explanatory aren’t. The “Hand Wash” icon looks like it could mean “Hand Burning”, as though the tub of liquid you’re washing your clothes in might be hydrochloric acid. And gym clothes need that, sometimes. The tubs with temperatures on them look like they might be pretty straightforward, but those temperatures are in Celsius. They don’t always say that.

Other icons are unknowable without help. The dots in the washbasins: apples? Bleach is a triangle, okay — but why? As for the last row up there, I just get angry. It’s hula hoops and sticks! What is this, Norman Rockwell’s sketchbook?? The whole thing looks like the language of a people who use a pictorial system to communicate with each other in writing.

You do have to respect that people for their language, though. There are no dirty words!

I kill me!

 

Transcription: Cherry Blossom Meeting

posted in: D.C. | 0
This is actually a shot taken in New Jersey, but I'm appropriating it for D.C. so take that, Jersey. Photo: Wikipedia.
This is actually a shot taken in New Jersey, but I’m appropriating it for D.C. so take that, Jersey. Photo: Wikipedia.

The following is a transcript from a meeting that took place this morning (March 19th, 2015) at the offices of the Blossom Rights and Standards Committee of The National Cherry Blossom Festival, or, BRSCNCBF for short. Note: all speakers are actual cherry blossoms. 

[BEGIN TRANSCRIPTION – 0.00.00.0]

TED: Okay, everyone. Let’s get started. Patty, are you here?

PATTY: Yes, I’m here! I’m in the back! Sorry, I was getting some coffee and the [LOST AUDIO].

TED: Great. All right, I’m going to jump right in, here. We’ve got a couple items on the agenda, but before we do that, uh, Bill… Did you want…

BILL: Yeah, I do. Thanks, Ted. Hi, everyone. I just wanted to start out the meeting with kind of a special announcement. Some of you may have heard that my wife and I are going to be moving and this is gonna be our last festival. It’s been a really hard decision, but we know it’s right for us and —

SALLY: Where are you guys moving?

BILL: We’re going to Tokyo. [Light murmuring, gasps.] Uh… I know that’s a decision that might make some of you, uh, maybe uncomfortable in some ways, ah, but Sandy and I really think it’s right for us and the boys, so… Um… Anyway, thank you all. We’ve loved being in DC all these years. It was a real tough decision. [clears throat.] Thanks.

TED: Okay, thanks, Bill. Thanks. You know we all think the world of you and wish you and Sandy luck and the boys and everything. Allrighty, let’s press on. As I know we’re all aware, the festival starts the day after tomorrow. Did you all know that? [laughter from the group.] You didn’t need a reminder? There are few concerns I’m looking at, but for the most part, we’re probably sitting in a better place than where we were last year. Action items, let’s see —

[Timestamp: 0.08.23.1]

PATTY: Ted, I don’t mean to interrupt, but I just want to let you know that I didn’t send it to you, but I got confirmation that everyone’s 1077 Do Not Pick Me forms were filed with the State Department. They did go in last month —

TED: Oh, great. That’s great. All of —

PATTY: All of them, yep, so we’re all good. Part of the confusion, if anyone cares, is that the form used to be the 1054 Do Not Pluck Me form? So it was all screwed up because of that. And actually, some blossoms are still filed under that form, but it’s getting phased out. Anyway, that’s it. Sorry.

TED: No, it’s great news. Thanks. Let’s look at these items real quick: Jerry, tell us what happened with the Bee Department.

JERRY: Um… [papers shuffling.] Hang on… Right, here we go. Uh, I spoke with William over there — I think he’s the —

SALLY: He’s the new guy.

JERRY: Right, right, I think he was a queen hire, actually, but anyway, he said that the torch lights are not getting placed on the west side of the far hill to the west of the Lincoln Memorial? No the bees are all good. No smoke problems this year for them over there, so any blossom over there in… I guess it’s District 8 is not going to have any pollen distribution trouble. Which is nice.

[Timestamp: 0.10.4.1]

BILL: Jerry, is that, are they not doing the torches because of the landscaping projects, or —

JERRY: I think so? But they didn’t go into it. I think so, though, yeah.

TED: That’s great. Thanks. Um, Amanda, tell us about No Blossom Left Behind. Joan, could you grab me that bottle of water on the table? Just throw it. Thanks.

AMANDA: If I make zero sense, just ignore me. I’m sneezing like crazy and I was up all last night with Nick; he’s blooming early, of course, like, now. I’m sleep-deprived. Anyway, donations are still way down, which is the bad news; but the good news is…that…we got the the koi fish grant. [Applause; cheering.] I know. It’s so great. They’re really wonderful, actually. Yeah. They’re all about it. And it’s not just the grant. They’re going to help collect petals from the ponds and everything and uh —

PATTY: Didn’t they say they could get the meeting set up with that pruner, too?

AMANDA: Yes! Thank you. I almost forgot. Henry is the main koi fish over there and he says he can get us that meeting with… I forget that guy’s name, but yeah. That’ll be a priority when the fest is over — thanks, Patty.

TED: Amanda, thank you. We’re getting so much positive press about No Blossom Left Behind; it’s been really impactful, really disrupting everything, so go team. Now I’d like to go around the room and hear from everyone about the goal sheets I passed out last time. I also want you to remind us all where you are, your District. And let me know if you need comp tickets and how many. I absolutely have to have the requests in today or you’re out of luck. Julie, how about you start?

[END OF TRANSCRIPTION, PART I]

Hat Frisbee.

posted in: Art | 0
This hat came up when I searched for a public domain image of a stocking cap. You should've seen the other ones.
This hat came up when I searched for a public domain image of a stocking cap. You should’ve seen the other ones.

On the train late this afternoon, I was out of sorts. My psyche was pulling to the right while some other part of my self was tugging on the leash to go left. This is a strange feeling but I was on a wobbly train on top of it. Good thing I had a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee or I might’ve slipped through the cracks.

The train conductor announced the next stop: Smithsonian. I jerked up in my seat, seized with the desire to not go home but go there, to Smithsonianworld. Seeing some art would jerk my brain stem back into alignment for sure. I could do it fast, too; take a quick dip in the eternal pond and then get back to my day. The Smithsonian museums are all free, so you just walk right in, fill up your tank and walk back out the door. Surely a painting or some kind of strange installation would break my mini-fugue.

I decided this almost too late, however; right before the doors closed at the Smithsonian stop, that’s when I decided to execute my plan. I shot out of my seat at the last possible second — scaring the bees out of everyone, I’m sure — and jammed my body through the closing doors. I was the person that annoys everyone riding a train: the person who delays the train leaving because they’re standing in the doors. Sorry about that, comrades.

The doors released their silver jaws and I went, “Phew!” and began to walk away. Then I hear this, “Hey!” and I turn around to see my stocking cap flying through the air.

I had left my stocking cap on my seat and someone inside the train had chucked it out the doors as they closed for real. “Wow, thanks!” I called after the car as it pulled away. Someone threw my hat out for me. They saved my hat. I stood there for a second, feeling my heart get warm and my brain get right. Also, flying stocking caps = comedy.

Up at street level, I passed several museums but couldn’t go in. I couldn’t handle the Holocaust Museum, clearly; I couldn’t give proper attention to the African American museum or the Chinese art collection at another grand building I passed. I saw a Barbara Krueger exhibit advertised at the Hirschorn but no freaking way could I have handled Barbara Krueger today. I found the sculpture garden out back of the Hirschorn, though, and that was just right.

My stocking cap kept me warm as I walked among the statues.

The Color Me Quilter Promo Video.

posted in: Pendennis, Work | 0
A still from the film. (A fancy way of saying I took a screenshot of my screen while the video was playing.)
A still from the film. (A fancy way of saying I took a screenshot of my screen while the video was playing.)

I made a video.

It is very silly, but it’s also meant to be informative.

It explains a bit about the webinar series I do called “Color Me Quilter.” The next one is on Thursday, and it’s all about blue. Blue and white quilts, indigo dye, how to “audition” blues for your quilt (green-based? red-based? help!) and a bonus lesson, plus all kinds of other pretty fascinating stuff you never knew about blue as it relates to quiltmaking in America. These webinars, they’re kinda neat.

Pendennis helped me make this video and I’m afraid he appears extremely ornery in it. He’s actually well-mannered for a monkey. I think it’s a snack issue. He needs a lot of snacks and he didn’t have one before we started. As you’ll see in the video, he reaches a point where he simply can’t wait.

Check out Color Me Quilter. You will like it. And do enjoy the video by clicking right heah. 

On Being Naked and Sweaty In Public.

posted in: Day In The Life, New York City | 2
This photo was filed in WikiCommons under "Sweaty" for the sweaty nose of the cow. I think the picture works in every way for this post.
This photo was filed in WikiCommons under “Sweaty” for the sweaty nose of the cow. Perfect!

 

I’m all up in my Bikram yoga now that I’m mostly settled, practicing with regularity at the small-but-mighty Bikram studio on the Lower East Side. What this means is that numerous times a week — every day if I have my way — I am packed like a sardine in a can of sardines, if sardines were naked and sweaty and practicing yoga on the Lower East Side. You know, sardines could aptly be described as both naked and sweaty; alas, being dead fish, they do not practice yoga, so my little simile must only go some of the distance for us.

When I say I’m naked and sweaty and Sardinian (?), I’m talking about my state post yoga class. During the yoga, we students wear clothes* in the hot room. (For the uninitiated: Bikram yoga is a 90-minute yoga series of 26 postures and two breathing exercises practiced in a room heated to 105-degrees. And yes, you pay for this on purpose.) After class, when the very will to live has been nearly wrung out of us and we drag our taut, glowy, and utterly eviscerated carcasses out of there, that’s when it gets real.

There is no space in Manhattan. None to spare. The women’s locker/shower/changing room in the yoga studio is maybe…500 feet square? It’s small. You’ve got a bank of lockers, two shower stalls, one bathroom, and a lot of sweaty, naked women attempting to change out of sopping wet yoga togs into normal street clothes, which is tough because a) there is nowhere to bend over to get your wet leg into your jeans and b) getting a wet leg into jeans in any room is like trying to give a sick cat ear infection medicine: extremely, extremely difficult and exasperating. You want someone else to do it for you really, really bad. But no one ever will. It’s your cat. It’s your leg.

I have bumped a bare bottom with my own bare bottom. Oh, it’s true! I’ve turned my head just as a gal was exiting the shower stall and whammo! the lass’s entire self, just hey-how-are-ya, right there in my letterbox. I’m pretty cool with bodies, so none of this exactly bothers me unless I think about the fact that we are all animals, because then I think about chicken coops and pig pens and cattle shoots and that’s bad. All those animals are naked, too, so I’ll be trying to pull denim up over a wet booty (mine) and suddenly I’m having the sixth existential crisis of the day — and I usually take the noon class!

The worst, though, is when there’s zydeco music playing.

The studio is great in the way they just hit “play” on some endless music mix in the sky/on the web and you never know what you’ll get. Sometimes, you’re headed into the hot room to the dulcet tones of jock rock; sometimes you get wailing house divas. Sometimes it’s all spa music in the changing room; other times you get hip-hop. I love the variety. But once, when the class that had just been tortured was changing to leave and the next class was arriving to go into the heat, when everyone was hopping around on one foot, boobies out, sweat flinging this way and that, effing zydeco music came through the speakers and I thought I might die of shame. Surely, someone, somewhere (God?) was laughing hysterically at all this. It would be impossible to come up with a soundtrack less becoming to a roomful of naked, hopping women.

That day, I ran.

*”Clothes” is mostly right. You wears small slingshots of fabric to cover the bits and that goes for the men and the women alike. This state of underdress makes for excellent scenery or not-so-excellent scenery, depending on where you’re standing and what you’re into.

 

 

Fremd High Writer’s Week 2014: Part I

posted in: Day In The Life | 2
That's the door I usually take to go inside. By year four, I actually remembered that.
That’s not the door I need to use. By year four, I actually remembered that and went to the other door.

Every year for (oh my) nine years? ten? something ridiculous like that, I have served as a presenter at Fremd High School’s Writer’s Week. Writer’s Week XIX kicks off on Monday, and I just happen to be headed to Chicago on Tuesday, so on Wednesday morning, bright and early, I’m taking a Metra train to Palatine and to try and kick up a little writer-y magic for my Fremd homies.

Here’s an abbreviated description of what Writer’s Week is, taken from the Fremd website:

“Writers Week began in 1995 when we featured students, faculty, and professional writers during lunch hours for a week in April. Since then, about a thousand Fremd students have taken the stage to share their writing. Faculty members from every department have related their stories through writing. More than two hundred professional writers from around the world have visited the Fremd campus during Writers Week to help us better understand writing and authors.”

Good idea, right? Lots of folks agree, including the likes of Gwendolyn Brooks, who presented at Fremd years ago. Billy Collins. Marc Smith. These are writers of consequence, authors whose work has shaped (still shapes) the American literary conversation. And because people on that little patch of land in Illinois believe in the power of and the need for good writers writing, high school students get to walk into an auditorium in their very own high school and receive the lessons, the joy, the discomfiting feelings — the blessed thought — good writing can bring. The amount of work involved in putting on Writer’s Week is head-spinning. Scheduling, booking, fundraising, booster-ing, coordinating — it’s nothing any of the teachers get paid extra to do and they do it all anyway, year after dedicated year.

I’m slightly famous at Fremd because I usually end up kissing people. There’s a piece in my lil’ repertoire that involves kissing an audience member. You want to make an impression on an auditorium full of 500+ high school students? Try kissing one of them. I’m not making out with anyone; it’s just a kiss on the cheek. But it’s a kiss on the cheek with commitment, and I’m nothing if not committed. That usually causes a stir, but I might be famous at Fremd because I write a poem on the spot for a student every year, or because I had a breakdancer kick it onstage (he was up there anyway getting a poem!), or because I presented a Lady Gaga song as verse once time — anything can happen and I think we all like it that way. Whatever the material might be, I give 100% of myself (my attention, my focus, my passion for words, my passion for having fun with them for heaven’s sake) to the Fremdians.

I seriously love that entire high school. It’s like we’re dating long-distance. I don’t see you very often, darling, but when I do, when I do.

I’ll dress up for you, darling. And I’ll bring you a gift from New York. Wait for me.