The fake blog is older than I thought

I've been doing some radio/podcast interviews lately for my debut novel called Wicker Park Wishes (this is not blatant self-promotion, merely a fact for the purpose of this blog post), and people have asked me how I developed the main character because she definitely isn't based on moi, and the entire story is made up, actually. I mentioned the fake blog, and thought I had been writing it for a couple years, but I actually started it four years ago! I haven't written in it every day, but I've been in touch with it since then, and would have posted more if the pandemic's lockdown hadn't happened, because what can you post about when you [your character] can't go out?

I thought I wouldn't want to keep fake blogging because the novel is printed, and I've already reached the 50k mark of the second draft of the follow-up novel (which no one has requested, but I'm doing it anyway). But I've realized that if I keep working and getting tasks done and meeting deadlines and being busy with lots of non-creative work, I really need to break away to have fiction fun. Weirdly and luckily, I've been over-employed during the pandemic to the point where I'm sometimes working four gigs in one day. And while I like being busy and don't plan on retiring, I don't do work where I'm in my own world, in control of what I'm doing. I have to get stuff done for other people and make sure I am productive so that my uber-employment will continue. But sometimes I just feel very constrained and drained, so even if I don't have time or the head space for working on the second novel, I can still get satisfaction from expressing myself in the fake blog. 

And this goes back to what I've said before, in a post that I can't find right now, that doing something creative allows you to step outside of the mundane and trivial to do something that you shape yourself, that you have control over. For instance, if someone doesn't treat you well or if you feel like you can't express yourself in your job, you can channel your frustrations into what you want, and no one can get to it. There's a freedom and release when we create something, like we're taking a trip without physically leaving our space. Even just doing this blog post is energizing, so that I can resume my technical tasks in a timely manner so that I don't get in trouble.

When I started this post, I was planning on writing in the fake blog because I've been feeling like I'm approaching burnout, and haven't used my spare time to create anything. I keep telling myself that even if I spend 15 minutes writing something that has nothing to do with work, I'll feel better, but I haven't done that. I think it's because I'm tired and am trying to make sure I sleep and exercise enough. But now that I've finished this post, I have a bit of time before I have to work, so I'm going to some fake blogging now :D 


Remembering Sam Wiener

I got an invite to a memorial for Sam Wiener, who sadly died in March 2020 at the age of 24, in the early days of the pandemic shutdown, and I ditched the other blog post that I was writing to write this.

Sam was known and beloved by hundreds of people who played tennis and took lessons at Northwestern University's indoor and outdoor courts. He went to Evanston High School and then went to college out of state, then came back to Evanston before finishing his bachelor's to teach tennis and help his family. Eventually he went back to college at Loyola to study business while still teaching tennis.

He was a really good guy. His father had had a serious bicycle accident, and Sam was there for his parents and spent time with them while his father recovered. When he told me about his dad's situation, I was really impressed because he'd gotten off the education track to help his dad and to be available when he was pretty much a teenager. He wasn't necessarily an outgoing guy, but he spent a lot of time helping and teaching people, showing incredible patience and understanding. 

I hadn't played tennis since I was a child, so it had been well over 30 years since I'd picked up a racquet or even gotten on a court. I was a horrible player and out of shape, starting from pretty much nothing; even when I played as a child, I just hit and had fun, playing on a court at the neighborhood park. I had never been athletic, while Sam had been athletic his entire life, so he was dealing with someone who was way below his level and ability. I even told him why I hadn't pursued sports, offering a bit of TMI, but he was cool about it, and even shared a bit of personal information about himself. 

Sam was an understanding person, and gave me great advice that not only helped me on the court, but in life as well: "move on to the next ball." He told me this after I repeatedly got angry at myself for missing a ball, full of regret that I was such a bad player and hadn't been physically active as he had been. But those few words changed my game. Since he told me that, if I missed a ball, I'd tell myself to move on to the next one; forget about the mistake I made and focus on the moment, what's coming up, and do my best.

Then I carried that over into my life. If something bad happens or I am disappointed, I tell myself to move on to the next ball. I don't ignore my feelings or stay angry or annoyed with someone, but once I work through how I feel I move on to the next ball, which is the next experience or next day or next person. 

Someone told me (or maybe it was him; I don't remember) that some of the Northwestern varsity tennis players gave him a hard time, sort of "pulling rank" for not being like them. Sam was a great tennis player, so I don't know why they would put him down like that. I have met former pro athletes, one who even has a Super Bowl ring, and they don't have such an attitude. When I talked to one former pro player about the college athletes that I'd heard about, they said once you play pro, you lose that self-righteous attitude. It's probably because the stakes are higher and everyone around them is excellent.

I am very sad that Sam is gone, and like a lot of other people, I wish I could have helped him. I know that he had some issues that he sort of shared, and I could see that his demeanor had changed and he was probably overwhelmed and/or stressed or concerned about things, but I didn't know what the details were. I knew that something must have been up because he looked different, but I didn't ask because I wasn't friends with him, just someone in the tennis-playing sphere. I think about him every day, and I will always remember what he taught me.


Taking success for granted?

I saw a documentary about a very successful author, and they were talking about how difficult it became to write, because there were a lot of expectations placed upon them, and it caused stress and anxiety. I don't know what fame and wealth are like, and probably never will, but I could understand how it could cause problems. 

However, it also made me think about the various people who pursued their craft, then became famous and wealthy, only to eventually say, "All I want to do is write/perform/play" etc., complaining about the demands of the business or being exposed to the public.

So let's break this down: they worked on their craft, dreaming of an audience, then they got the audience while also becoming wealthy, and then they're complaining about the situation. If they really only cared about their craft, or working in isolation, why didn't they stay there? When someone creates something special, and an agent or manager approaches them, signs them to a lucrative deal, perhaps after a bidding war, what do they think they're getting into? There are many examples and lots of information out there about the business, but it seems like they totally ignore it, assuming that contracts and commitments don't matter, especially if an organization has paid big bucks for their work. 

Even the first step, when an agent or manager wants to represent them, is a signal that they're getting into a business and will acquire an audience and an industry that want something and will continue to give them contracts and deadlines, especially if they've been successful. I talk to many writers who are having a hard time getting their work done because no one is waiting for their work; they have to motivate themselves to get it done. But some successful writers lament those contracts and deadlines, which would be a dream situation for the aspiring, struggling authors. The extrinsic motivation creates the momentum, but it's like the successful pros take it for granted.

Another thing I've noticed is that they sit in their large home, perhaps one of a few, and they talk about wanting a simpler life. But their success has opened all kinds of doors, not just the ability to buy what they want, travel where they want, and pursue the hobbies they are most passionate about; they are invited to the best events, are in demand as a speaker, develop friendships with some of the most talented people on the planet, and have access that most of the world doesn't have.

There are plenty of successful people who are enjoying the fruits of their labor. I recently read Irving Fein's biography of Jack Benny, and it is clear that he worked hard in show business to achieve an amazing level of success and fame. He seemed to totally enjoy it, and was aware of how wonderful and productive his career was, including hanging out with cool people he met because of his high cultural standing. His wife also seemed to love the luxurious lifestyle, and they had lots of friends and went to fun parties and lived life to the fullest. He obviously knew what he was getting into, and wasn't perplexed or disappointed by the demands of the business. 

Meanwhile, there are pros who are perplexed, stressed, or disappointed about the biz, whose success has put them in what people would consider a privileged position. Maybe they should help others out to achieve the same dream, or give them access to the dynamic opportunities and events when they don't want to show up.

p.s. My novel, Wicker Park Wishes, will be published by Eckhartz Press. Pre-order here.


My experience with the COVID-19 vaccine

I lucked out in getting a COVID-19 vaccine because on the day that I became eligible, I wasn't able to get an appointment, so I figured I would have to wait a while. However, as I was walking home from my essential job, I had a feeling that I should walk into Walgreens and try to get on a waiting list, in case someone cancelled. I talked to a pharmacist and explained how I was eligible (I was eligible in three work categories, which makes sense because I have five different gigs), and she put me on a list, telling me that I would have to show up soon after they called. I said no problem, since I lived very close, so could get there in minutes. 

I assumed that I wouldn't get a call, but miraculously I did that same day, and I happened to be walking home from the gym, which was also not far from the pharmacy. I ran over there and was stunned because I'm pretty sure I was the only person called in from the list that day, and I sat in the chair repeatedly thanking them because I'd spent the past year going to work and even teaching an in-person class, which had made me feel stressed.

Right after I got the Moderna shot, I was lightheaded and dizzy, and they had me sit in a chair. The dizziness subsided but the lightheadness didn't, but I walked home anyway, assuming I'd get better, especially because I'd just done an intense workout and figured that probably affected how I was responding to the vaccine. But the lightheadness and some dizziness stayed with me for a couple of days. I basically felt like I had a kind of brain fog, and if I tried to read something, it was hard for me to concentrate on the words. I could still work, but I couldn't focus in on details and I just powered through. When the fog disappeared I felt better, so I was in the clear.

Because I'd been a walk-in, I didn't have an automatic appointment for the second shot. I went into Walgreens and then called them a couple days later to let them know that I was due for a second shot, and I assumed I'd get it towards the end of the eligibility period. But again, miraculously, they called me in right away, and what's even more amazing is that I usually have to work on Sunday, but I happened to not be scheduled that day. So I got the shot on Saturday, would have all day Sunday to deal with the symptoms, and then go to work on Monday.

But my experience after the second Moderna shot was worse. At first, I felt a bit tired, and after I took a nap, I woke up feeling fine. I thought I'd dodged the dreaded symptoms that everyone was talking about, but late on Saturday night, I woke up with the worst headache I'd ever had, accompanied with serious nausea. I spent the entire night dealing with a pounding head, and no painkiller would relieve it. I kept feeling like I was going to throw up, and even drinking Pepto Bismol did nothing. I stayed in bed from Saturday night until 1 AM on Monday, and the only reason I got out of bed was to go to work; I didn't eat anything, just stayed in bed day and night, and then I had to be at work well before dawn on Monday.

Because I'm an essential worker, I had to go to work, and if I called in (not sure if I qualify for a sick day since I'm a part-timer and a certain amount of hours have to be racked up), there would be no one to cover for me at that hour. Maybe one of the bosses would've been able to come in and do my job, but that would be unfair to them, not only because I have the lowest job in the place, but they already do a million things. I had to drag myself into the shower and regular clothes, and I felt horrible. My body was exhausted from fighting the effects of the vaccine for a couple of days, my head was totally pounding and felt like it was going to explode, and I hadn't eaten anything in more than 24 hours. I managed to get to work by 2:30 AM, and I thought being busy there would make me feel better, but I just struggled to make it through. I still ate nothing and my headache was a bit better, but I felt gross and very tired. I felt consistently nauseated and achy and I really shouldn't have been there, but technically I wasn't sick, just having a strong reaction to the vaccine.

As soon as I was done with work I rushed home, got into bed, and slept. Then, suddenly, the headache and nausea were gone by the afternoon. I finally ate something and took no more painkillers (which had been useless anyway). But for the next couple of days, I didn't want to eat much because I was afraid of the nausea returning, and I continued to have body aches. It might have been a combination of lying around so much and still being affected by the vaccine. Luckily, painkillers relieved the aches and I eventually got better. By the time I was finished at the gym on Wednesday, I felt hungry enough to eat a meal and the aches were gone.

Basically, I rarely get sick, and I have only called in sick once in over a decade of working at various jobs, so my track record has been good. Maybe that's also why I didn't call in--I wanted to maintain my good track record. And because I rarely get sick, I wasn't used to not feeling well; I thought the symptoms would continue, and I was sort of scared when it took a four days to feel totally normal again. I get the flu shot every year, and never have any side effects. I also never get the flu and rarely get colds. The one time I did get a severe cold was after my dad died, when my caretaking duties were over, and it was as if my body was telling me to drop the adrenaline and relax into illness.

A lot of people are doing whatever they want after getting both shots, but I'm still going to be careful because the pandemic isn't over, and I don't want the virus in my body, even though I have the means to fight it (as long as it works against the variants). Also, it's not clear if vaccinated people can still spread the virus, so I don't want to affect other folks. I'm glad I got it, but was surprised my reaction was so extreme.

p.s. My novel, Wicker Park Wishes, will be published by Eckhartz Press. Pre-order here.


View of the South Side via drone

As I've said before, I really enjoy teaching English to immigrants (English as a Second Language - ESL) at Daley College, which is on Chicago's southwest side. When I wrote that post, I had been working there for 13 years, and I didn't know if I would get another class to teach this semester. But I did get a class in January, so now I've been there for 14 years! 

We're still online due to the pandemic (and that area of the city has the most cases), but I've still gotten to know the students pretty well, and one of the students has been creating videos and even has a business.

Last week, he showed the class a video that he created via a drone, and it features the South Side (of course), near the Dan Ryan Woods. I've driven past that forest preserve many times, because sometimes a good way to get to Daley, which is located at 76th and Pulaski, is to take the Dan Ryan Expressway, get off at 87th street, and drive west. The video is below, and can also be viewed on Facebook. He's also on Instagram @chrisamfilms

Video: Dan Ryan Woods, by Chrisam Films

p.s. My novel, Wicker Park Wishes, will be published by Eckhartz Press. Pre-order here.


Novel coming later this year: Wicker Park Wishes

Update: pre-order by debut novel at Eckhartz Press.

I don't know how many people have been reading this blog the entire time, since around 15 years ago, but I've been talking and whining about trying to write fiction for a while. I managed to finish novels and drafts that I ended up throwing out because they were so bad; there was no point in keeping them around. Well, as I said before, I was working on a novel from fall of 2019 to fall of 2020, and after I mentioned that I totally finished it, I ended up sending it to Eckhartz Press. After some months, they said that they wanted to publish it.  

I actually can't believe what I wrote is going to be out there, and I feel sort of sick about it, not because I'm not glad, but because it's actually happening. I've helped other people write with none of my attribution (which is totally fine), and have my own bylines out there, including audio interviews I've done, but this is the first time that a novel will have my name on it. 

I've contacted some people to review it, and they'll be getting a copy when it comes out, which is later this year. Thankfully, one of the people who read the book pre-publication had this to say, and this is not a fake review; this is her honest opinion:

Margaret has a way of writing about Chicago and transporting the reader back to a time before the Internet was a part of daily life, before we were tethered to our cell phones and when you actually called people to make plans and have interpersonal relationships. "Wicker Park Wishes" really takes me back to the 1990s with Margaret's artful and accurate style of writing, and the descriptions of Chicago neighborhoods from that time make me feel as if I am really there. She does a great job painting a picture of Chicago without making it seem forced. 
— Tina E. Akouris

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Briefly talking to a human offset a ton of screen time

I was making a list of all the activities I did over the past couple of days online and on my computer, and you'd think I had the most dynamic work and social life ever. But all I was doing was looking and speaking into a screen, and the flat experience made me feel disconnected and down. 

Now to some folks, not interacting with people IRL and spending hours in front of a machine is a fantastic lifestyle. But to me and I suspect millions of others, it's a way of dehumanizing our existence. The architects of technology probably imagined a world that's efficient and does not have to be messed up by small-talking humans, so they've pretty much gotten what they've wanted. But to those of us who actually like heartbeats and laughs, it's been challenging, and spending time online socializing is two-dimensional.

Even though I socialized and taught online the past couple of days, and got a lot of non-people-related work done on my high-quality Mac that has a large screen, decent sound, and a sharp graphical interface, I still felt like I barely existed. I even walked outside surrounded by snow, lights, and notable architecture, but I still felt like I was some kind of detached machine that had unplugged from another. It wasn't until I went to the store to get a few items that I finally snapped out of it. All I did was order something from the deli, and when the person working behind the counter (and plexiglass) asked me to repeat what I said, I joked that one day we won't have to try to figure out what each other is saying through masks, and she nodded, and then I thanked her for taking care of my order. I don't know why that broke my automaton sensation, but I felt like someone had opened the door and cut the cord and allowed me to live in the real world again. 

I think it's because I had a spontaneous interaction with someone, and it wasn't work-related. I'm lucky that I can go to an essential job a few times a week, but there aren't many people there and they're all busy in a high-pressure situation, so even if we do chat, it doesn't feel like a break but a tense reprieve. And being at home for hours in a room getting stuff done and feeling more empty after scrolling through social media doesn't fix the problem, even though my productivity has increased. Having online meetups is better than nothing, but it all still makes me feel flat. I am conforming to the screen, not moving or interacting with anything three-dimensional, and I still have to fake introversion to keep things together. I feel like my face has become a wall, because I don't want people to misinterpret my expressions, so I try not to have any. And if I smile (barely), it's still an act, because I'm trying to stay in control of my screen image. 

And then there's this: part of the flurry of my online experience was a seminar that was led by a very talented speaker whose lectures I'd attended offline before. And that person managed to be animated and dynamic on screen, so they seemed to effectively transform their offline presentation to the digital space. But it was like what I'd observed before the pandemic: the person was really friendly and interactive, but I know they're really not like that. Yes, they're yet another person who seems to be so into people, but it might just be an act: one time we were heading in the same direction, and I was the only one who could drive them several miles back to where they were staying. I assumed that since they were so into people and so talkative, we'd have a conversation during the trip back to the city. But they didn't want to talk and didn't initiate any conversation. So the talkative, energetic, seemingly people-oriented person, who makes money from working with and helping people, wasn't really that way; they were withdrawn and awkward. So remembering their outgoing act became part of my excessive screen deflation and just reinforced the fact that it's much better to meet authentic people, especially offline.