Monday, June 29, 2009


(This was my SKALD 10 piece, performed on June 27, 2009)

I was eight years old when I was told I wasn’t black.

My 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Opalek, went around the room on a Friday afternoon with the assignment of “What do you want to be when you grow up and why?” She wanted us to think about it over the weekend and we had to be prepared to share with the rest of the class on Monday.

Friday night, I had nothing, no idea or clue of what my future should hold. I lay in bed that night, thinking about it. What was I good at, what could I excel at, do, produce, contribute.....nothing.

Saturday morning came and went without any great revelations, but Saturday afternoon, it all changed.

Saturday in our house was chore day and I got to spend the afternoon dusting in the living room where the stereo was. Our dual 8 track and turntable combo was suspended on a chic 70’s shelf from chains in our ceiling. You had to stand on a little red child’s chair to reach the player and be cautious to avoid making it swing like a jungle vine.

As I stepped up, I carefully leafed through our collection of albums and 8 track tapes, like The Carpenters “A kind of Hush”, Manhattan Transfer “Coming Out”, Pete Fountain “New Orleans”, Thelonius Monk and Miles Davis at Newport, and then…..there it was, my answer, my salvation, my future in all it’s glory. I remember holding the album, close to my chest and clutching it like it was the Holy Grail.

I was so overwhelmed with a sense of satisfaction and relief. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t wait to go to school.

Monday morning, Mrs. Opalek goes around the room. Our class room averaged out at about 14 astronauts (one Steve Austin - Six Million Dollar Man, still an astronaut), three ballerinas, a Charlie’s Angel, a weird girl who wanted to be a horse, a vet...because he had a crush on the weird girl who wanted to BE a horse and then, it was my turn.

"Mrs. Opalek, I want to be Aretha Franklin."

"That's very interesting Nicolle,,,,,,why?"

"Because, she’s the Queen of Soul."

"Mmmm,,,have you ever heard of heard of Barbara Streisand."

"Yes, Mrs. Opalek, she’s a good singer, but she isn’t the Queen of anything."

"Yes, but sweetie, your not black."

Dead silence, there was nothing, no comments or questions from the class and I realized I was experiencing my first stage fright, my first flop sweat as I struggled to explain my future brilliance.

Aretha’s voice was different. It carried some signature, a resonance that imprinted itself on your heart when you listened to her to such a degree that it physically hurt me. When she sang “Do Right Woman – Do Right Man”, it was like she was pushing her entire being from her toes all the way out through her mouth.

This is what I explained to a genuinely befuddled teacher and a completely clueless class and voila I was the weird kid at recess.

Later that day, as I was quietly banging my head against the monkey bars, Margie McCormick came running up to me. "Hey, who's Aretha Franklin?"

What??? What???

I tried. Oh, I tried to explain to Margie the feminist theories behind the song respect and the ramifications it had on the women’s movement.

"Huh,,have you ever listened to Pat Boon?" I was a a strange land.

During parent teacher conferences that month, my mom was told about my “choice” for a future career and her only response was “Yeah, and?” Go Mom.

But, Mrs. Opalek thought I might be confused about the assignment and asked my mom to discuss it with me.

Nov. 1976, Blue Volkswagen Beetle: Mom and Me.


So, you want to be Aretha Franklin?


Yeah Mom, isn’t she groovy?


Yes, she is.

But, I think I'm supposed to change who I want to be because I'm just White.


Well, some people think if you look a certain way, you can only ever be certain things when you grow up.


Is that what you think Mom?


I think you can be and do whatever you want to, as long as you’re happy. It's true, you'll never be Black because you are who you are, but you can become anything you aspire to be in life. Do you understand that?


I look back on that moment in my life with increasing pride the older I get. I know I could never have envisioned myself being Aretha Franklin if my mother wasn’t leading by example.

Only by being raised in an open atmosphere could a white suburban girl ever conceive that she could be a soul singer when she grew up. To me, even at eight, I knew it wasn't about race it was about something more personal and meaningful. Aretha wasn’t a black soul singer she was simply A singer,a mentor, and my role model.

So, yes, Mrs. Opalek, Aretha Franklin. It was my answer then, it’s my answer now. I believed it could happen and I believe it could still happen, because I was raised by mother, The Original Queen of Soul.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Memes...need brains.....

"Memeticists argue that the memes most beneficial to their hosts will not necessarily survive; rather, those memes that replicate the most effectively spread best, which allows for the possibility that successful memes may prove detrimental to their hosts."

My theory....memes are nothing but Zombies in waiting, lurking around the next dark corner, ripe to infect you with slobbering bad habits.

The term meme has popped into my little world about three times in the last two days, and I'll fully admit to not being able to succinctly describe or define what a meme is. So, with my mother's voice ringing in my ears, "if you don't know something, look it up", I did just that. Memes are described as "any cultural entity that an observer might consider a replicator."

I'm quite disturbed over the use of the term meme to describe personality as a genetic excuse to act like a complete ass-hat, when it seems like a meme should be a Darwinian tool to fully weed out the ass-hats from the white-hats. Memes would also explain the following, in the context of "successful memes may prove detrimental to their hosts"; using cellular technology while on public transportation, the plumping and blimping of women's lips, supersizing your value meal and obsessive viewing of reality television.

In this age of over-indulged children (and let's face it the same can be said for adults), memes seem to be a free pass for idiocy by blaming your upbringing on a poorly socialized family dynamic leading to a faulty social meme. I much prefer my grandmother's take on life, "Pull your head out of your ass and get to work." Nothing simpler is required, no crystal chakra aligned chanting , no thermo dynamic aura healing, no circle drum chanting or gingko whatey-hooey.

I don't think it's that shocking that if you separate the phrase meme, it breaks down into Me-Me. Nope, no shock at all.

Friday, May 29, 2009

DO NOT....

Do not tell me you are sorry when I clear my throat and it annoys you. Your correction does not signify an understanding of my discomfort.

Do not tell me you are sorry when you want to listen to music on a morning drive, because it's truly what you wish to hear. Your ears are dedicated to what they want and do not have a respect for my desire for zen.

Do not tell me you are sorry for wanting light when my eyes need the dark. Your brain wishes to see in shades of yellow and red without care that my eyes crave hues of ebony and stone.

Do not tell me you are sorry for raising your voice as your heart can only hear in volumes of pain, without care that my soul can hear your whisper of desperation.

Do not waste three such precious words....."I AM SORRY". I beg you to save them for when you break my heart, for you will, and it is then you will need them..........for your survival.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Married = Leper

I was riding the Kimball line this past Friday, heading to the theatre and happened to get into a fascinating political conversation with an attractive man. I'm a firm believer that we, as a population, don't know how to communicate anymore, unless we are twittering, facebooking, my spacing, texting, etc... So, whenever I have the opportunity to actually speak with someone intelligent I like to embrace the opportunity. The conversation is irrelevant to this post, but the following is not:

Approaching my stop I told "Kimball Line Ken" that it was lovely talking to him. He then asked me if I would like to have a cup of coffee sometime and continue our conversation. I told him I would, if he didn't mind my husband coming along. He looked like I punched him and he suddenly became much less congenial and completely avoided looking me in the eyes. I had become the modern day equivalent of a leper.....a married woman.

I wear a very "non-married" looking wedding ring and band. It's an antique ruby setting and doesn't scream "I'm married". But, it's also not a catch and release mechanism designed to lure in unsuspecting men. My offense was neither intentional or planned.

In the ten years that I've been married I've had this happen only a handful of times. I have noticed that since I'm been getting myself healthy again, that I am becoming slightly interesting to the male population again. So I was genuinely bothered by the whole exchange with the "Ken" gent.

I got married, I did not; develop a third head, become an asexual being, cease being appreciative of admiring comments or glances, lose my feminine sense of wanting to be wanted or have my brain fall out of my head at the altar.

I don't know when being married became an oddity or a disease to be shunned like an H1N1 virus. Do I think I'm all that and a side of guacamole, sometimes, not often. In the moments that I don't feel that way, a simple glance from someone or an admiring comment can boost that sense that "Yes, I'm still desirable to someone who isn't legally required to desire me".

So gents....if you find any of your married lady friends appealing, don't treat them like bubble wrapped eggs in a carton....remind them that you think they are "hot snatch" (as a friend of mind would say) and you just might make their day. Do not ride off into the "L" sunset, leaving behind a woman who feels like less of a woman just because of her jewelry.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Slippers ain't shoes, pajamas ain't pants!!!

I'd like to ask a simple question of my friends, both male and female. When did slippers become shoes and pajamas become pants? I can remember using this style while living in the dorms in my less-than-coiffed college days, but people, really? I see countless folks, in my neighborhood and throughout Chicago sporting this "Glamour Don't" moment.

I attempt to live my life by a statement I once heard Joan Crawford make (I didn't actually hear her say this mind you) when asked why she bothered to dress to the nines before even going to the grocery store..."Darling" she said "you never know who you're going to meet in this town". Now, I realize, I may not meet a lot of influential people in the Albany Park neighborhood, but you just never know. You never know if the next director, casting agent, potential mate, friend, future boss etc.... is right around the corner. Now, I don't leave the house each day in a flowing Balenciaga gown, but I do attempt to style my hair, put on a face and dress nicely. I have my dress down days on the weekend, but I avoid the land of torn up sweats and greasy hats.

It's statistically proven that people who take time with their appearance and pride in the way they look, have a better outlook on life and actually score higher on the Mensa exam (okay, so the Mensa exam part was shit, but you catch my drift).

Be nicer to yourself, don't overwork your at home wear and always remember "Slippers ain't shoes, pajamas ain't pants!"

Saturday, April 25, 2009

I'm better off?!? 3/10/2009

Here I sit at the unemployment office with the number 92. I have been here since 9:20 a.m. and it is now 11:50. Number 49 has just been called....I think I'll be here awhile. I stare around me, at the faces of my fellow comrades in arms trying to find our way out of the wilderness of a Post Bush Era. Let me say this now and clearly; I work hard, I am intelligent, I am proud of contributing to a workforce and community. So, I ask you, objectively, why am I sitting here? Anyone?

The reception desk is helmed by a pleasant looking man (yes, just one) who looks like he would prefer to be anywhere, including an uninhabitable planet, rather than here. I watch him attempt to direct and guide people and briefly feel much more happy. It dawns on me, for whatever situation I am in, I believe I am much better off than the lone receptionist. (I wonder, briefly, if there's a black market at the unemployment office for selling numbers 1-20. *note to self, find out if this is illegal.)

I try to read, blocking out the surrounding noise and give this up after a few minutes. Twiddling my thumbs, I wait out the seconds until I hear 92 called at 3:20 p.m. I walk, or technically sprint, to the desk with my letter to discover why my unemployment is being held up. Apparently the computer system lists me as having a new dependent each week, even though I am childless, unable to have children and keep pressing "no dependents" on the enrollment phone call each week. By my calculation, I should have at least 5 children by now, according to the I.D.E.S., (Illinois Department of Employment Security-as they prefer to be called). A child a week is quite a neat trick when you think about it and would probably prove profitable if it was true.

I leave after a 3 minute consultation and a brief computer correction, feeling more tired than I have a right to for sitting all day.

Here's the thing. For all of my bitching, the trip was well spent. I watched families come and go, for six hours, most of them with children to care for. I watched people who were working in their jobs, that clearly didn't want to be working in them. I watched laid off workers, struggling to get their unemployment benefits paid, while their previous employer contested it.

I had, no children to worry about, no job to dislike, and a generous former employer who was paying severance and allowing unemployment at the same time.

You think you have it bad....spend an afternoon at the unemployment office, excuse me, I.D.E.S, that's what they prefer.

Bad Day - 1/29/09

I have learned to mark my days as follows:
"Today was a good day"....."Today was a bad day".
102 days and 7 hours ago those sentiments (pro or con) carried an entirely different meaning for me. Having a bad day could possibly mean disagreeing with my boss, overdrawing my bank account, miscommunication with my husband or facing a traffic jam on 90-94 West. These days, having a bad day means the carefully constructed veneer, that fluffy and safe insulation, which comes with the generous gift of distance, is removed. In the first ticks of the clock, the first few seconds of the curtain dropping on the debut of a bad day I see the following set before me. A beautiful boy, always a boy to me, laying attached to artificial life. I see clearly, myself, standing to the left side of his bed, holding his hand and kissing him on his temple, still unbruised and soft, murmuring " who will miss me now Nick?" Everything about him still held warmth and color and made it almost impossible to pry yourself away from his side. The warmth is the devil that tricks you into believing, believing for a moment that the possibility of a way out of the hell you are in is plausible. I have become a seeker of cold, to avoid remembering the hope and beauty that warmth can hold. I don't remember leaving the hospital, getting into my car or driving back to my parents house. I know I got there, I just really do not remember the journey. I do remember staring, for hours, at the walls in my parent's living room and thinking, what now? How does this all work? I've been to the funeral of a father, a grandmother, a grandfather, an uncle and great aunts and uncles, but nothing prepares you for losing a younger member of your family, a nephew who has always filled the roll of little brother. How do you find solace, meaning, consolation or motivation to even care about searching for anything that would come close to making sense? I find anger, hidden in pockets of my heart, for the people that live because of him. Are they worthy of the gift they have received? Do they appreciate the sacrifice and life lost to allow them to celebrate another day? Did their families say a prayer for our family at Christmas? And then I am ashamed at myself because the sacrifice was not mine to make and is therefore not mine to question. I was raised "right" as they say. I was raised to believe in a god that has infinite wonder, wisdom and reasoning that surpasses any mortal understanding.......but today I do not care.

Today was a bad day. I remembered and I unraveled.