Sunday, April 25, 2010

Going where my mind takes me

This is what I wrote Saturday at the website. You'll need to read my earlier post to learn more about the site. Beware, this entry got an R rating for its language and sexual content. So if you're easily offended please don't read it. Also please keep in mind this is fictional (mostly) and written in one take in less than 20 minutes.
Down in the recesses of my brain, down past the walls I set up for others to see, the parts of me I make public, there is something else living there. I feel its breath on me at night as I roam the streets looking for company. The sidewalks are usually deserted in the early morning hours. The frat boys and sorority sluts are already back home, sleeping or fucking or whatever else they do when the bars close. Chicago can be a lonely place, despite its bustling nightlife and daylight hours. I can walk along the lakewalk from Montrose Harbor all the way to the Shedd Aquarium and hardly anyone will pay any attention to me. I walk past teenage girls who look right through me. I've reached the age where I am invisible to them. If I try to talk to them, they are usually polite at first. It's when I start asking where they are headed or what they are doing in the city, that's when they start to get that look in their eyes. We have to get going, they'll say, and scurry off to get away from the guy who is creeping them out. I stand on the sidewalk and watch them disappear down Halstead. At night I walk Rush Street, unable to afford to stop in and have a drink at any of the clubs. I love to hear the jazz notes floating into the air from behind the closed doors. In front of those doors usually stands a burly meathead asking for the $20 cover charge. And I think to myself, 20 fucking dollars? Really? I went into one of them during another phase of my life. I ordered a Diet Coke because I was still on the wagon then. The drink came back in one of those tall, skinny cocktail glasses loaded with ice and a narrow black straw. A few pulls on that straw and my pop was gone. The bartender asked if I wanted another, and I said yes because in addition to the $20 cover charge, there was a two-drink minimum to sit at the bar. A short time later she slipped the tab in front of me as I watched the band crank through one of those 15-minute jazz songs that never really sounds like the same song but then they stop playing and tell you that was, "whatever, whatever" and we hope you liked it. I did like it. But I left anyway. I've never been back into one of those clubs. The clientele was rich and refined, maybe even dignified. All things I am not. I prefer finding the hole in the wall bars, places like Carol's on Clark. A guy can go in there and get five or six beers with 10 bucks and be happy. It's one of those dingy places where cigarette smoke still clings to hte walls and ceiling even though smoking hasn't been allowed in city bars for two years. I suspect Carol probably still lights up in there when business is slow. She always struck me as a I-dont-give-a-fuck gal. But you have to be careful in Chicago. Cops are always looking to bust bar owners for stupid shit like that. Those liquor licences -- especially the 4 a.m. ones -- are better than gold in Chicago. Carol's stays open until 5 a.m. on Saturdays. Well, I guess that would be Sunday. I've walked into that place many times after 2 a.m. and had trouble finding a place to sit. College-age girls don't come in there, but that's all right. The women who do don't look so bad, unless they're the ones who slather on their makeup with paintbrushes and squeeze their fat asses into way-too-small jeans. Those are the ones who sit at the bar looking bored, glancing around for some guy drunk enough to want to fuck them. Some nights that guy is me. But it never works out well. We'll go back to her place -- always her place, I never take anybody to my dingy apartment -- and maybe smoke some weed if she has any. I'll get myself a beer or a shot of whiskey and then we'll start up on the couch. My hands run all over her body and hers are on mine. We move to the bedroom, disrobing along the way. By the time we're naked and on the bed, I'm bored. My dick just lies there no matter what she does to entice it. A few minutes later I'm back outside letting the night air cool my face. I look down the street one way then the other, hoping someone -- anyone -- is out walking and wouldn't mind talking to me.

750 words a day

I've been meaning to write more. I've had a bunch of ideas bouncing around in my head that would make good blog entries, but I never get around to doing it. Part of that is my freelance workload has increased, and I find that as long as I am doing some kind of writing, I don't get the urge to do another kind.

So when I hit a slow spot with the freelancing, I usually get the urge to blog. When nothing comes to mind to blog about, I try to turn to my much-neglected fiction.

But this makes everything very disorganized and isn't the best for trying to be creative. As I've been told by other writers (either in person or through books), you shouldn't wait until you feel inspired to write. You should create a habit of writing every day.

Maybe you end up writing crap that day, but that's not a big deal. For some the goal is to write three pages per day. That breaks down to roughly 750 words, which is what I learned when I discovered this website.

I signed up two days ago and pledged to write 750 words per day for the entire month of May. But I couldn't wait to May 1, so I started already. I've only created two entries, but I'm finding I really like the system.

I'm a competitive person -- no, really I am -- so is a way for me to challenge myself. The site keeps track of how many days I've succeeded and myriad other details, including the weather that day, the words I use most often, and how long it takes to get to the 750-word threshold.

What I really like about it is the point system. The more days you write, the more points you earn. There is a scoreboard that keeps track of everyone. This is where my competitiveness comes in handy. I want to see my name included on the leaderboard some day.

My strategy for writing is just to write whatever pops into my head, which is what they recommend doing. No editing. No looking for the "right" word. Just type one word after another and see where it takes you.

I took the nonfiction road for my first entry. On Saturday morning my writing turned into a fictional story told in first person. I might share it just to give you an idea of how my mind works. Don't expect a polished product, though. As I reread my entries I cringe at the sloppy syntax and sentences that sometime pop up.

I'm a manic self-editor so it's difficult to let typos go and just keep rolling. I'm getting the hang of it, though.

Anyway, I just wanted to share the site with you. Really, this post was just a way for me to tend to my much-neglected blog. Check out my next entry if you're interested in reading my stream of consciousness ramblings. I warn you, though, don't expect Faulkner.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

What I love about my job

Last Tuesday I found myself wandering around McKinley Park on Chicago's South Side.

I was there looking for fishermen at the park's lagoon for this article. But I was there at 10:30 a.m., not exactly prime fishing time. So I only found one guy, and he was leaving just as I saw him. I talked with him and then waited around for another hour or so before deciding I'd be better off coming back the next day.

I drove home frustrated for having wasted the day, especially when the assignment pays a flat fee and not an hourly wage. I essentially drove there for nothing, which is a freelancer's worst scenario.

When I returned Wednesday evening I wasn't very optimistic. I walked around the lagoon again but didn't see anybody fishing. Then as I rounded the far side I spotted a few guys set up on the path ringing the lagoon. They had poles propped up on the shore, lines in the water.

I still wasn't sure if I would find anything interesting as I approached two of the men. I told them who I was and that I was writing about the recent consumption advisory telling anglers they shouldn't eat carp caught in the lagoon more than once a week. The carp population was contaminated with PCBs.

The guys pointed me to an older man sitting in a folding lawn chair next to two tackle boxes and a cooler. He wore a tan fishing vest over a T-shirt that read something to the effect of him having to choose between fishing and his wife. Lower on the shirt was a Gone Fishing sign above, "I'm sure going to miss her."

This turned out to be Lonnie Williams, a 58-year-old McKinley Park resident who claimed to have fished that lagoon for 50 years. Jackpot! I don't know if he saw my face light up or not, but I knew without having to ask another question that I'd found the guy I needed to find for the article. His two friends, who were about 15 years younger than Williams, were equally interesting.

This is how it often is for journalists. Sometimes we strike out looking for the perfect fit for an article. And sometimes we find Lonnie Williams. Nothing replicates that feeling of knowing everything is going to be all right -- I'm going to make deadline, I'm going to have an interesting character to channel the subject matter through, my time hasn't been wasted.

It also makes me feel very fortunate. If not for that assignment I never would have discovered McKinley Park or Williams or his band of urban anglers. That's the best part of the job, the discovery of something new. It might not be new to everybody, but it's new to me.

I'd be happy if I never interviewed a famous person again as long as I can continue meeting people like Lonnie Williams. Or George Hood, who I first encountered a couple years ago and interviewed again this morning.

Hood is looking to reclaim his Guinness World Record for riding a spin bike. The record stands at 192 hours, but he's shooting for 300 hours or more. Some think Hood is crazy, and I can't fault them for that. It is crazy to put your mind and body through such an ordeal to raise money for charity and to get your name in a record book.

I'm fascinated with Hood and what makes him tick. I'd like to write a book about him, and he's offered me the opportunity a few times. But as much as I'd love to do it, that would mean I'd have to drop everything else. I don't know if I'm ready to focus on only one topic and subject, no matter how fascinating it is.

There are just too many people out there with interesting stories waiting to be told.