Bystander

In Los Angeles, outside of my window, I saw a man grab a woman’s arm and shake, hard. I was already at the window because I’d heard them fighting from about a block away. She was pushing an old shopping cart. He was yelling about something. And then the shake. I immediately thought about calling 911, and then I froze. I had this blazing shameful feeling of, like, I don’t know what the protocol is. What’s worth a call? What’s just wasting their time? A man shakes a woman at night on a side street in Cypress Park, Los Angeles. No one has ever figured out how to stop him.

In the 1960s, Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death in New York City. The case is famous; I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Papers falsely reported that almost forty people heard her screams and did nothing. The truth was a bit murkier. One person did one thing. A man flung open his window and yelled, “Hey, get out of there! What are you doing?” and the killer ran away, leaving Kitty bleeding but alive.

But then, for the next thirty minutes, she was alone. Someone flung open a window but no one came down onto the street. It would have been so easy to run downstairs and carry her inside while her attacker was gone. But no one opened their doors, and as Kitty slowly dragged her bleeding body into the lobby of the apartment building, the killer came back for her. “I had a feeling this man would close his window and go back to sleep,” said the killer, in court, “and sure enough, he did.”

It’s not uncommon, living in a city, to hear a scream outside your window. Just like it’s not uncommon to hear something that sounds like guns but is actually firecrackers, or vice versa. Mostly it’s just happy drunken screeching by people stumbling to and from bars, but sometimes you hear the sort of scream that makes you leap out of bed and throw open the window. I always look from each window of my apartment when I hear a scream. Screams are weird aural things and it’s hard to know which direction they’re coming from. Once I got lost in an elaborate and terrible daydream in which I tried to drop a concrete block out of my window onto an imaginary perpetrator but smashed the victim instead. People like me are dangerous, with the will but not necessarily the means to save another human—or with a weak will, or no will at all, and a demon on our shoulders who whispers, Maybe someone else will take care of it and maybe it’s not all that bad.

In Los Angeles, I tried to make up for my fearfulness by going outside and following the couple in the darkness. I’m putting myself in danger, I thought, half-pleased with myself. I followed them away from the main street. I started feeling like the creepy one. I had my phone. If I see one more thing…I thought to myself. I didn’t see him touch her again and eventually they vanished and I, scared of the dogs that roamed the streets of my neighborhood at night, turned back home.

Once, years ago, someone saw me stumble in a dark alleyway. It was a dangerous Chicago neighborhood, sometime after midnight. The thing was that I was fine. I was with Charlie. We were having an amazing night. I forget what we were joking about, but we were cackling and pushing each other around, as you do when you don’t want the night to end. Just then a car pulled up and someone rolled down a window.

“Are you okay?” they yelled to me.

I said something like, “Oh yeah, yeah, this is my boyfriend, we’re just joking around.” But they didn’t leave. In fact, I remember being irritated by their skepticism, irritated by the way they lingered. They just stared at me through the open window for a long, quiet moment, waiting for some shadow to flit across my face. “I’m fine, I’m fine!” I chirped. It took them another minute to drive away. I still think of them, from time to time, and how beautiful it was that they took so long to believe me.

13 Things I Loved in 2013

Peeps, I am PSYCHED for 2014. I think it’s going to be a fantastic year for all of us. Shout-out to my little sister who’ll be graduating high school and starting college, everyone from IU who’s going to be graduating with an MFA, and all others undergoing life changes big and small. Oh, and an extra-meaningful shout-out to anyone who’s about to come into a lot of money. These thrifted cardigans don’t pay for themselves!

In an effort to remain optimistic and grateful instead of defaulting into my usual mental state (fatalistic and consumed with a senseless desire for revenge), I’m taking a look back on the highlights of 2013–a strange and frightening year for young Tori if there ever was one. There were lows, there were ant infestations, there were terrified moments spent deep under the covers wondering if the apocalypse was nigh, there were creepy men on street corners talking to figures I couldn’t see, but there were also highs, and kindred spirits, and candles, and champagne, and paycheck after paycheck with more than 6 figures on it.

Here are some of the things I loved.

charlie4

2013-121. Hanging out with my guy. He cooks delicious egg sandwiches, he cracks me up, he lets me take hilarious photos of him when he’s carrying his bass over potholes, we’re in a top-secret band together, he’s not too grumpy, he’s the most supportive person of my writing by a long shot, he took me to a champagne salon on my birthday, and he is far too precious to be elaborated on via the Internet. screenplaygurrrrl

2. Writing a screenplay. Aside from some novellas in college (what up Northwestern CW Honors Program ’09), this was my first real foray into long-form writing, and gee willikers was it hard. But my seemingly senseless toil earned me the ultimate prize: having my name appear…in a list…ON THE INTERNET…beneath the name of someone who doesn’t use the Oxford comma!

colombia

3. Going on a whirlwind trip to Colombia, aka “Colombia the country,” with these kindreds. When my friend Joe called me for a little commiseration about his “failed” trip to Colombia, neither of us had any idea that in about forty-eight hours, we’d both be on a plane to Bogotá. Our spur-of-the-moment trip taught me so much about how I want to live my life. I finally understood, viscerally, that no action comes out of inaction. There’s never going to be a perfect time, you’ll never have enough money (what up Indiana University graduate student “salary”), and you will always have to shuffle your life and budget around like a professional juggler. But if you bring yo’ passport and pack super light and are okay with not washing your hair for a while, it’s going to be amazing.

tumblr_mqd5ymQwMq1swoyzho1_500

4. Waitressing the night the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. It was basically like going to a huge party where ecstatic strangers buy you drinks and you walk away with $300 cash. Hanging out with Toews and the Stanley Cup was pretty awesome too, but as you can see, I was in a bad mood that day for no good reason. Women, right?!

2013-8

5. Actually, waitressing in general. I spent the summer waitressing and freelance writing, and it was just the funnest, most laid-back summer ever. After a while, I couldn’t keep up with the late nights/Jameson shots + early mornings article deadlines, but waitressing and writing are the perfect combination of extroversion/introversion, human interest/dreaming.

2013-9

6. Travels. Despite the fact that I’ve become terrified of flying after entering into an alternate reality via airplane in the spring of 2012 (long story), there is little I love better than going to a new city/town/country/bullfighting festival/party in West Egg/Yoknapatawpha county/WHAT?!

2013-13

7. Writing flash fiction, the world’s most enjoyable art form. This is probably my favorite thing I’ve written this year, if yer interested.

2013-3

8. Making tiny videos. I got no technical/financial/practical reason to do so, it’s just SO MUCH FUN. And is there a better reason for doing anything? (Funny. KitschySad.)

2013-14

9. Embracing the art of the terrifying decision. 2013 was the year I left three different jobs. No wait–four jobs. No, wait, five jobs–geez, #likearollingstone, am I right?! Because I’ve learned that what you don’t do often defines you just as much as what you do.

2013-52013-1010. Bloomington farewells, Bloomington reunions. Proof that just like Snow White and Prince Charming in “Once Upon a Time” (obscure art world reference, don’t worry about it), writers will always find each other.

2013-11

11. Meriwether reunion. We may not be any closer to world domination and we may have forgotten to create our famous podcast, “Insanity,” but we’re still the queens of the comedy hour. The question remains: is it all in our heads?!

photo-40 photo-41 photo-4212. SISTER reunion. We’re probably going to be roommates when she’s in college, because that’s what normal people do. And she gon’ be my best friiiiiiiiieeeend.

2013-420132013-7

13. All things family. Is this me ending with a sentimental cliche? No, this is me ending with a Marilynne Robinson quote:

There’s so much to be grateful for, words are poor things.

The Wilds of the Midwest

photo (18)

I live in the Midwest but I’m not from here at all. I’m an East Coast baby, a move-around-a-lot baby. I lived abroad as a child, and before I was a teenager, the only place I really put feelers into the soil was the little town of Lenoir, North Carolina. And then once I was a teenager–well, teenagers are by their very nature rootless. But anyway, we moved to Chicago. 

I’m not a Midwesterner, though occasionally I catch the ghost of a Chicago twang in my a’s (Shi-cahh-go). I’ve lived in Chicago for years now and I have yet to feel any sense of home in this city. But then I take I-80 West and the fields start streaming by.

See, my family is from Midwestern farmland and they’re from here deep.

I always forget that ancestry means something. It means a lot. I always think of my identity as me: small Tori, skipping through states and countries in her missionary-child girlhood. But I’ve been helping my grandma with a book of our genealogy lately and it’s really moving to hear about the people that run in your blood. Me isn’t just me. Everything is a composite, even the things we thought were pure, like my secret vampire teeth or when I was twelve I drew a picture of two people kissing. 

The things we can catalog besides my childhood portraits: the German immigrant. The mysterious death of the brother. The sod house in Nebraska. Two boys walking home, staring down the wolves. The died-in-childbirth. The year they thought they weren’t going to make it. The year they built the little white farm house, the farmhouse that’s still standing, the farmhouse that I’m sitting in right now, wrapped in blankets on a narrow vintage bed.

At night I hear footsteps in the room above me and I whisper come down and see me.

I wish those people knew me. You know: my ancestors. I want to run up to them and be like, hey, you made me, whatcha think? I want them to be proud of their own boundless potential, proud of filling up this huge country with tall children. Still, I feel like I’m not of them at all. Actually don’t come down. Actually I’m scared. I’m this other person, this rootless girl. Not a speck of DNA in this body. I didn’t grow up anywhere; some days I feel like a mannequin with a small girl ghost inside it. But other days, to keep my feet on real dirt, to shake myself into some sense of existence, I walk around these empty fields repeating, this is what I am. This is what I am. And the fields might respond, if I could just take my stubborn legs and kneel.

The Work of Writing: Week Three Update

IMG_0880 IMG_0925

Oh, week three: meant to be a full-fledged orgy of inspiration. Epileptic fits of pastoral joy, “Look at that flame-edged leaf! I muse in agonized ecstasy on its transcendent contours…”, weeping over a perfect shard of broken glass, and so on and so on–basically all the things that make the world hate writers. Sometimes that’s the way it works, is it not? Though you might tremble at the cliched nature of your activity, sometimes wandering lonely as a cloud really does make your heart dance with the daffodils (and then with Microsoft Word and then with Submishmash and then with the PEN/Faulkner award).

But none of that happened this week. I did get weepy at the sight of a water tower. But there was more to the story than just superficial beauty. I’ll elaborate below. Oh, I also cried because an idiot customer yelled at me because his tacos were (gasp) on the same platter as his friend’s tacos. It’s moments like those that remind me I need to buy pepper spray and also fully shuck off societal politeness in order to live as my truest self, which is a FURIOUS OMBRÉD WHIRLWIND OF MISGUIDED VINDICATION!

Instead, I felt like this past week was simply me pushing the reset button. It was full of simple contemplative moments like Oh, I really like reading and writing by hand feels nice and I should write an essay about this feeling and I like music too I guess, just little sweet interludes that reminded me what I love about not just writing, not just about art, but about life. 

IMG_0960 IMG_0997 IMG_0856

This is what I did:

1. Read Atonement for hours, lying on the couch in a patch of sunlight–the Platonic ideal of novel-reading.

2. Went for sushi in one of my old Chicago neighborhoods (I’m masochistically nostalgic), sat alone, and wrote in my journal for a long time.

3. Went to the movies by myself, which has long been one of my absolute favorite things to do. Necessary: some dusk-colored street-wandering afterward.

4. Went for a one-block walk with my Canon and tried to see things in new ways (results here). I also threw a Coors Light bottle into the air to photograph it. You can guess what happened 0.5 seconds later. Sorry, City of Chicago! Don’t be mad, I got nasty beer/spit all over my fingers, it was punishment enough!

5. Made a tiny movie called ACTRESS FILMS ANOTHER FINAL SCENE with Rose Truesdale (watch it here).

6. Filmed another movie with two amazing Chicago actors in the graveyard where Charles Dickens’ impoverished brother was buried. Cue creepy out-of-tune piano interlude. The film is called THE NARCO’S WIFE and it should be ready for your rapt viewing pleasure in week or so…AAAAAIIIIEEEEEE!

7. Went to the Art Institute and wandered around the ancient parts.

8. Went to the World Music Festival Chicago twice, once with wine, both times with a handsome bass player.

9. Took a train back to my somewhat-hometown, Western Springs, for the strangest afternoon of my life. Suffice it to say that I experienced everything from tear-inducing nostalgia (yes, I started sniffling over the sight of a water tower) to a floaty sense of displacement to surrealish nausea to scoring a hardback of my favorite book of the summer, Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, to accidentally buying a second large black hat, to nabbing some birthday presents for my dearest ones. Good day.

10. Started a little zine some like to call CRIME AND PUNISHMENT.  Every morning I do 100 push-ups, eat a raw egg, and start reading. Okay, I actually haven’t finished the introduction yet. But I’m really liking the introduction!

11. In general, spent a little less time online and a little more time interacting with the tangible–flowers, the page, the ancient Japanese sculptures at the Art Institute, which apparently you’re not supposed to touch or take home with you??? NEWS TO ME. I thought “400 BC” was the PRICE TAG, OKAY?

12. One last thing I gotta say, not really part of the week but I just need to be annoying for a second: the first screenplay I ever wrote got honorable mention in a contest!!! And even better, nobody told me about it–seeing your name on a list when you weren’t expecting it is the best shock in the world. I hope to experience it again some day HI MACARTHUR FOUNDATION NO NEED TO CALL ME I’LL JUST KEEP REFRESHING YOUR TWITTER FEED.

Get out there, my loves, and have your own week three, and no need to create something from the experience. Sometimes it’s best to just let things flow through you, I guess. C’MON AND DO THE JAILHOUSE ROCK WITH ME!

Photo on 9-13-13 at 11.18 AM #7 Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 1.12.31 PM

Half a Year: Photos

I bought a Moleskine planner today. (It’s a thing.) I cleaned out my camera. My new planner starts July 1st. While in limbo, I thought I’d look back on this first half of the year. This is a totally skewed portrait, since I never had my rather bulky DSLR at any of the many FABULOUS, STUDIO 54-WORTHY parties I’ve gone to, nor do I have screenshots of the MILLIONS OF GROVELING EMAILS begging me for a lock of my hair, but I like these photos nonetheless. What has this half-a-year been like? I couldn’t say. Some of it was a melancholy blur. A small part of it was spent blissfully cracked out on that elusive beast, writing inspiration. A little bit of it was spent careening through the air in a metal tube that runs on jet fuel–a terrifying activity that I hope to do more of in the fall. A lot of it was spent dancing and drinking. Many decibels of this year were expended in honor of my polygamous husbands, the BLACKHAWKS, STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS 2013. But what was it? What would I name this half-a-year, if I were Adam and God was asking me to give everything a name? I would say, “I don’t know.” And then I would ask God his thoughts on East of Eden, a freakishly good book…I think.

JANUARY: San Diego, LA, Bloomington (or: home, kindreds, grad school)

California etc 375 California etc 379 California etc 128 California etc 267 Bloomington 029

FEBRUARY: reading, coffee, Valentine’s hair, Chicago

IMG_1940 IMG_1947IMG_2017 me&r IMG_2089 IMG_2166

MARCH: Spring, Easter

IMG_2202 IMG_2260

APRIL: Cohort

IMG_2361 IMG_2375

MAY: Moving, writing, Colombia (PS: MORE PICTURES COMING SOON), existential despair

IMG_2455 IMG_2463 colombiachaosIMG_2558 IMG_2570IMG_2515

JUNE: Farmer’s markets, hustling

IMG_2740 IMG_2758 IMG_2812 IMG_2827 IMG_2828

Friday Love List

hahahaha

I really wanted to call this “Fwiday Love List” but I was terrified at the massive repercussions this liberal use of the word “Friday” would have throughout the Internet. So I remained traditional. Because people are afraid of change. Terrified, I tell you. You may have elected Barack SADDAM HUSSEIN NIETZSCHE CHAIRMAN MAO Obama but you won’t wear more than a “splash” of neon. And lemme tell you something, neon is not for accenting.

Psychotic capslock aside, I’m getting to like this little ritual:

1. SPRING BREAK

Apparently it’s a thing once you’re back in academia! While part of me wishes I was roadtripping to Cabo with my girls, a suitcase full of polka-dot bikinis, and a mix tape solely featuring early 2000 Britney, a larger part of me realizes that one of my undergraduate students is going to Cabo, and I just can’t even deal with ducking behind palm trees right now while trying to buy some valuable stock in the killing-tourists-and-stuffing-their-bodies-with-cocaine drug trafficking biz. So instead I’m going to the Cabo of the Midwest. ChicAg(B)O. AND I CANNOT WAIT.

2. BOTTLE ROCKET

I have never truly had a favorite movie before (well that’s not entirely true–I was obsessed with The Emperor’s New Groove for all of college), but now I do. And its name is Bottle Rocket. And it is the funniest thing I have ever seen and has the best ending of my life. And if I don’t become friends with Owen Wilson in this lifetime, something will have gone very wrong (that “something” being my plan to climb over his hedges and station myself just inside his front door until he learns to love me).

3. BEING DONE WITH THINGS

Is anything better? Done with a presentation on 2666, done grading my students’ exams and portfolios, done doing my laundry. Aaaahhhhh.

4. A SHORT FILM IN THE WORKS

I wrote it while watching Bottle Rocket. I kept getting inspired and stopping the movie to jot things down. OWE YOU ONE, WES ANDERSON! Hopefully this isn’t a classic case of cryptomnesia. And I have not one but TWO high-powered producers (<–pals w/ the Vine app) who want to make it. Probably. As long as it’s not accidentally Bottle Rocket in condensed form.

5. NOT LIKING INDIE ROCK

Yeah it makes me cool! Give me your Becks, your Grizzly Bears, your Shins, your Antler Hoof Eyes, and I will RUN THEM OFF THE ROAD. Using the car that I’m saving up to get. With my…

6. TAX RETURN

Quitting my job 3 months early sure paid off this tax year, baby! Hellooooo lower income tax bracket. Good to see you again. Last time we met I believe I was working at the Starbucks in La Grange. Good times. Good times. I used to add mounds of steamed soymilk to their blueberry tea and drink it on my break. Not sure why.

Today the Sky is Gray: A Compendium of Scientific Theories

image(16)

1. It is a direct reflection of Freud’s “melancholia,” from which I am currently suffering, and the grayness is actually emanating from me as I sit here, staring out the Megabus window, driving farther and farther away from a land where coffee is made with care and buses run down literally every street, although they do smell terrible (both the buses and the streets), but then again Chicago in the winter is not New York in the summer, odor-wise, not even in the same ballpark, so I rescind that last complaint.

2. All across the globe, fish are dying. Instead of reflecting the blue ocean, the sky is now forced to reflect the gray, scaly underbellies of dead fish as they float silently on the surfaces of rivers and ponds across America, reeking slightly, glimmering moistly. This is because of global warming and/or Obama’s presidency.

3. By referring to Borges as my soulmate, I have created some sort of space-time continuum rupture and, in a totally Borgesian turn of events, I am slowly becoming Borges–and losing my sight.

4. The entire globe is on fire and what I take to be “clouds” is actually “smoke.” Signifier/signified/what is reality/what is meaning/etc.

5. Someone has colored the sky gray with a crayon. Probably Mary Poppins. Did anyone actually read the book Mary Poppins? That biddy has some serious superpowers and sticks the stars onto the sky with glue. She is way creepier than in the Disney movie.

6. The heavens have grown so bored with everyone’s petty Tweeting that they refuse to be a color anymore. Or maybe it’s not Twitter that’s the problem, maybe the universe is still mad at Anne Hathaway for refusing to embrace her total smugness and instead pretending (note that I didn’t say acting) to be surprised at her Oscar win.

7. The lead singer of Counting Crows finally got that gray guitar and played.

8. The gray, leafless trees and the gray, foggy, slowly-descending sky are in some sort of agreement, possibly whispering to each other behind all of our backs. Trees know, okay? Trees know. If you’ve read Tolkien you know this; if not, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

9. Zombie apocalypse.

10. Someone is holding a large piece of fabric over this Megabus with cornfields, farmhouses, and very realistic semi-trucks painted on it in order to deceive me into thinking the day is cloudy. This seems the most plausible explanation, but WHY? I will muse on the motivations behind this horrible  simulacrum while looking for small tears in the fabric.