10.04.2021

Fictionalizing what people aren't sharing

I recently read an article in the Chicago Tribune about a lawsuit "alleging radio star coerced sexual favors," which made me wonder why the Me Too movement hasn't touched the Chicago TV and radio scene. A lot of people in national media and movies have come forward with allegations, but not even a handful of people here in Chicago have spoken publicly about any kind of incidents. And not much seems to have been shared in other cities, even though I know it has happened at various radio and TV stations throughout the country.

Even though the "Me Too" phrase started in 2006, the movement didn't really blow up online until more than ten years later. But because I'd seen and heard various things in the media biz, I wrote a fictional piece about a Me Too-type of situation in 2009. It was in an anthology that my business published called Down the Block, which includes more than 15 authors' and bloggers' pieces (read the book below). One reader seemed to be impressed that I'd written something way before the Me Too movement. Another reader thought that I'd experienced this story, but honestly, I never have. But there are people out there who have had a similar experience, and have stayed silent. Why? 

Mister P

Mr. P lived in a penthouse near the Swissotel, right on the Chicago river. That’s where he prepped for his radio show, which was number one in Chicago. I had to go there because I was his producer, and he always had an open bottle of wine, which he knocked off during our meetings. He never offered me any, which was fine with me, because I was afraid of what I might say if I got even a bit tipsy. We’d meet there in the early afternoon, after he took his long nap and after I returned calls from desperate PR reps who wanted access to his near-million listeners.

He always liked calling me “babe” and it never stopped annoying me, but there was nothing I could do, because there were only a few shows in Chicago, and I didn’t want to leave radio. In a normal company, I’d be able to go to HR to complain about him, or at least would be able to talk to our supervisor, and there would be an understanding that such treatment wasn’t right, but the Program Director at the station was a good friend of his from junior high, and since his hobby was collecting candid photos of barely dressed teens off of MySpace to post on his office wall, there was no way I could talk to him about it. So I just ignored the “babe” and “sweetie” names, and I’d focus on the next day’s run-down, which Mr. P wouldn’t look at until right before he went on the air. Which made me wonder why I had to go to his place to prep, because he could care less about what was going on, as long as he kept getting his million-plus paycheck and could keep paying his ex-wife alimony, while I did all the work to put the show together.

“You know doll, you never told me if you have a boyfriend,” he said and leaned over until his belly spilled over his pants.

“I do,” I lied. There was no way I was going to let him know anything about my personal life. Or anything else, because I just wanted to put in my time with his show, pack my resume with experience, and move on to something better – and more normal.

“I remember when I dated this girl, I met her at my last station in Milwaukee,” he said, and continued telling me stories of how and where he bagged her, then chuckled when he told me she cried when he blew her off to move to Chicago.

“Lovely,” I said, staring at my laptop to find a good story for the 7:00 hour. I really wanted to tell him off, but I couldn’t because I needed this job to get ahead, and that’s what I kept telling myself as he continued to talk about himself, as he always did, no matter what the topic was.

“You ever do anyone at the station?” he asked, pouring more wine into his goblet, which had his face on it and the name of one of the show’s biggest sponsors.

“No,” I said, and tried to divert his attention away with a juicy story of Mayor Daley once again denying corruption in the city, but he ignored it, of course.

“I did – every station I’ve worked – keeps you on edge. You never know if someone will walk in, ha ha.” His double chin jiggled while he let out a snort.

There was no way I could sit there any longer.

“Yeah, well, I’ll see you tomorrow,” I said, and packed up my things. I started to make my way towards his private elevator, and thought I was free until I felt a tug of my sleeve.

“Where you going?” he asked. He had a cigar in one hand and an almost-empty wine bottle in the other. “You want a glass?”

“No – I’ve gotta go,” I said, and was almost on the elevator when he suddenly pulled me back.

“Come on, we’ve been working together a long time.” He was so close, I could smell his cigar-wine breath, and could tell he doused a bunch of cologne on his lard to drown the body odor.

“I really have to go,” I said, and pushed the elevator button again since the door closed.

Then he pulled me back more violently, which made me fall to the floor. “Stop!” I yelled, and he pinned me down with his thick arms until I couldn’t move. “Help!” I screamed, but he stopped my speech with his slobbery smelly mouth.

I managed to free my legs enough to kick his flabby stomach, which was hanging over me. He slightly moved to the side, then tried to return on top of me, which just made me kick him harder. I kept kicking and kicking until he rolled to the side, and I ran out to the emergency exit, setting off an alarm. I flew down several flights of stairs and down to the street, where the sidewalks were filled with suited workers watching the tourist boats on the river. Everything looked normal, and it was even sunny outside, but I felt awful enough to take the next week off, because I was so broken inside, and could barely get out of bed.

So I was fired, and Mr. P even managed to get a smear piece written about me in the Times’ media column because the writer was a good friend of his, and he’d never believe my side of the story. Or care. Nobody cared, actually, because other people just saw it as a chance to try to get my job. So I took a break from radio.

Until now. I’m currently the Program Director of another talk station on the northwest side of Chicago, which I partly own thanks to some investors and my generous grandparents’ will. So I can hire who I want. And right now, Mr. P and his agent are sitting in my office, right in front of me, trying to convince me to hire him because his morning show was replaced with a syndicated one out of New York, and the new owners didn’t want to pay his high salary anymore. And now, Mr. P wants to work with me. At my station. So what do you think my answer is going to be?


p.s. Order and get info about my novel Wicker Park Wishes at the Eckhartz Press site, www.wickerparkwishes.com

9.06.2021

Let's Meet at Printers Row Lit Fest! Saturday 4:30-6, September 11th

If you are going to the Printers Row Lit Fest this Saturday, stop by to say hello! I will be there from 4:30-6 with Vicki Quade, author of Close Encounters of a Chicago Kind, in Tent K, which is the Chicago Writers Association Booth. You can buy a book right there, or you can also order the digital version at Amazon right now, if you want :)

Wicker Park Wishes

8.13.2021

Reading easier text helps my Japanese

I am still trying to maintain my Japanese, even though I have no opportunities to speak it or even hear people speaking it, unless I go to Mitsuwa, which is far from my house. Before the pandemic, I went there once or twice a month, but I've only been there once since the pandemic began. When I go there, I shamelessly eavesdrop, even if I have to linger around a food fridge for a while, because live-speaking native Japanese speakers are rare in my area (I'd probably have better luck in California). A couple of years ago, I wanted to buy a croquette ("korokke" コロッケ) and asked the guy who was in the food booth a question. He said he didn't understand English, and started to get someone else to help, but I told him I could understand it. We said a few words, and it was wonderful! Another time I tried to speak Japanese, and it was a bust. I was visiting a radio show and was speaking with a Japanese guy in English. His friend didn't understand English, so I spoke some Japanese. The English speaker kept interpreting what I was saying, which made me feel like my Japanese was awful. I think it was because I didn't remember all the words I wanted to use, and my accent and probably syntax weren't great. I kept thinking that if I were speaking Spanish (which I can read but can't speak) at the level I know Japanese, they would probably get what I was trying to say.

I've been following Japanese accounts on Twitter, and I often have to look up words. Because Japanese can maximize the character count there, the tweets are longer than English ones. Sometimes I start reading them and want to give up because they seem so complex, even within that small space. And the kanji is brutal. There are thousands of kanjis to memorize, and just when I think I have a handle on them, many more pop up.

That's why I really like NHK's News Web Easy. First of all, the news stories are simplified, so I am able to comprehend the meaning via the sentence structure. And if I don't know the kanji readings, I can click 漢字の読み方をつける and the page will show all the kanji readings, and then I can click 漢字の読み方を消けす to turn them off. I can also listen to audio of the story as I read it. The only downside is that there aren't many stories to choose from, but it's better than nothing!

NHK News Web Easy



There is always the option of finding an article and pasting it into Google Translate, then playing the audio button. I don't know what happened to my favorite translating/deciphering website, Popjisyo. Is it gone? Before Google Translate became more robust, it was the go-to site for understanding Japanese and eventually other Asian languages (though I only used the Japanese part). I loved that site! But I noticed that Rikai is still around. Maybe I should try that. 
Update: I just went to Popjisyo and it's back! Please don't go away, Popjisyo!

p.s. Order and get info about my novel Wicker Park Wishes at the Eckhartz Press site, www.wickerparkwishes.com

8.05.2021

I like making money

If I were paid well per hour, I would have made a lot more money than I have over the past couple of years, because I have racked up so many hours at my main part-time job and have stayed employed at my other gigs, that it would add up to a lot of dough. I have been working at different jobs simultaneously, and autumn looks like it's going to be super-busy as well, but I'm not getting rich. And that's okay, but I really wouldn't mind making a lot of money. I never have, and never cared if I did, but I've seen what it can do. Not only does it allow you to do more and decrease worry about being able to pay for things, but it really helps the economy and helps people live better lives.

This was clear when the pandemic hit last year. I live in an area with stores and restaurants, and they had to be closed, so people couldn't work. I ended up doing what I usually didn't do before: ordering out at least a few times a week to give the restaurants business. I saw the effect that few or no customers had on places, and even though I wasn't paid well, I was over-employed and didn't lose any work, so I used the money I made to spend elsewhere. I also sublet an office space when I could have easily worked at home, and I kept getting a monthly massage and eventually returned to the gym, and kept going to a trainer. I was really lucky that I could do all those things, and my employment still hasn't decreased. Now I'm thinking what else I could do if I had more money to spend.

There is a lot of consumerism, even conspicuous consumption, going on in my area. I don't know if the people who are buying luxury items or going to restaurants are thinking about the positive effect they're having on the economy, but they really are helping. Now I realize that if I were wealthy, I would gladly spend money at businesses and get various services. I wouldn't be irresponsible, because I've always lived within my means, but I'd do more. For instance, if I had tens of thousands of dollars to spare (and of course I don't make that much), I would get rid of my car and hire a driver every time I had to go somewhere. Many drivers could not work during the lockdown, and now they're catching up. I would gladly leave the driving to someone else, and it would give someone else money to pay their bills and improve their life. 

It's important to save for a rainy day; I've experienced underemployment and was laid off at one point, and couldn't find work and felt horrible. There have been times when my checking account didn't have much in it, so I could basically pay my bills and not do much else. Not having money is a real drag, and there are, of course, many people who are struggling throughout the world. Before the pandemic, I would look at busy places and think that I didn't have to spend anything there because people already were giving them business. But during the pandemic, there weren't many people around to patronize the businesses, so I realized my spending helps; it helps the people working there and helps those throughout the supply chain. Spending has become a way to help society, so now I'm seeing having money as more than just a buffer; when circulated, it goes in other people's pockets so that they can give their families more than just the basics.

I managed to travel a bit, spending a couple of days in Milwaukee and in Central Illinois. I was really glad to spend money on the hotels, restaurants, theater swag, and a museum membership. I wish I could do more, but I plan on doing what I can as I keep working and earning enough so that I have disposable income that can be shared in productive and enjoyable ways.

7.14.2021

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 

p.s. Order and get info about my novel Wicker Park Wishes at the Eckhartz Press site, www.wickerparkwishes.com

6.24.2021

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.

5.05.2021

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.