Archive | November 2011

Chicago Part 4: Quality Time

This post is almost a month overdue, but beyond my visit to the Morton Arboretum and the time Dan and I spent at Swing City Chicago, we also took in three different plays (Overweight: Unimportant, Misshapen; A Touch of Poet; The Great Fire), spent some time with Dan’s grad school buddy Shawn and his girlfriend Linn (both really wonderful people), and generally just hung out with each other navigating Chicago together.

The plays were all unique and interesting. Overweight was a European existential play, and while I truly enjoy existential adventures, I definitely felt like some aspects to Overweight were a bit beyond my understanding (I’m definitely rusty on Germany history, and even rustier on German existential theory…).

A Touch of Poet examined some of the issues of class, saving face, and increasing one’s status in society. This was achieved through the familiar plot line of an alcoholic-abusive father figure with a military past trying to assess his station in life and simultaneously the drama created by a daughter who wants to marry out of her economic strata. The story was set around the turn-of-the-century (well, by that I mean late 1800s) in the U.S., and the family were Irish immigrants though the father had fought for the British Army, so there were a few unique elements. The story was poignant – as the father becomes more self-aware and the daughter more understanding of her father’s dark traits.

The Great Fire was probably my favorite of the productions we saw. It was a retelling of the Great Chicago fire during the 1870s, and was a well-produced cross between a musical and a play. There were stories from Chicago residents, an overview of the event from the perspective of the city government and fire department, and the fire itself, was even made into a character. Special effects helped create the environmental elements – the literal “feel” and “sight” of a fire of that magnitude- and the cast was excellent.

Each of these plays touched on different elements of performing art and theatricality, and I appreciated each of them for their originality and message.

We also had the good fortune of staying with Shawn, and spending time with him and Linn. They took us to a delicious Korean restaurant one night, and Shawn spent time with us at his apartment and ate a couple of smaller meals with us. Both of them were incredibly kind and pleasant people, and shared some of their current activities/interests with us — Shawn’s optics research and career goals, Linn’s work in a NICU, their upcoming trip to NYC over Thanksgiving, and just their general ideas and dreams. A foreign city can feel so much warmer when you’re able to spend time with good people there.

However what I enjoyed the most was all of the time Dan and I spent together – just us.

Whether it was the plane rides napping against each others shoulders, late night rides on the Metro/L holding hands, when we looked around an all-Lacrosse store, when we sat on the stoop of an apartment building to share a few songs on his MP3 player, or were walking around downtown in the rain trying to find a theatre aggravated between the discrepancies on my printed directions and the GPS on my smartphone.

Life so frequently takes us both in different directions — he’s got a new design project, I’ve got a bunch of reports to write or consumer surveys to program, he has his friends to catch up with and I have mine, and we have our dance classes, etc.

As so many have commented before, and will comment going forward, quality time together is often limited. Or at least, quality time in which we are both free from other external obligations (work, family, friends, etc.) and can just be present in the moment with each other.

However, it was all those small moments where we were just together – maybe communicating, maybe just enjoying a quiet companionship – that I loved the most.

Now, almost a month after our visit to Chi-Town, I think back on that weekend with such fondness for those memories, but I also remind myself that we owe it to ourselves to make our relationship a priority in our lives.
We will always have giant to-do lists between us, goals to accomplish, chores to complete, people needing our help or attention. And those things are valuable – they give us purpose, make us feel productive.
However, sometimes the trappings of being “busy” are just that – trappings. They don’t provide true personal satisfaction, or perhaps more importantly, a true sense of mutual understanding and love.

I’ll say it now, and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but love makes it all worth it.

For those little moments, those precious moments, in the past, present and future, I’m eternally grateful.

-S

Being Female

Female

Sometimes I like to think of it as Fe-Male, in other words, for those chemists out there: a woman as an iron-clad version of a man. Do I thus envision women as metal works? Hardly, just saying that the meaning isn’t exactly clear from the word itself.

As a female, as a woman, I find myself in this constant state of identity formation.

I’m not really talking about the difference between gender and sex (i.e., one being the social construction and the other being biologically driven), although that could be part of the discussion.

I’m saying that I’m just not sure where I fit on the shelf in between the volumes of female, feminine, woman, and lady.

Contemporary feminist culture seems to dictate that the “modern woman” is (and this list is not exhaustive):
– Independent (self-sufficient emotionally, materially, spiritually, financially)
– Intelligent (knowledgeable, rational)
– Inspiring (motivational, encouraging)
– Progressive (socially, possibly politically)
And more

Of course, these traits have lots of promise and good to them. I mean, it’s great to be self-sufficient, smart, open-minded and supportive.

But somewhere along the lines, this mantra of modernity collided with career and suddenly today the modern woman seems to have morphed into a variety of subsets: the educated, wanton 9-5 single urbanite, the color-coordinated soccer mom shuttling the kids in and out of Starbucks in a SUV, the career-minded entrepreneur with a web-business and a dog, the homemaker interested in whole-grain breads and organic produce and the latest story on Dr. Phil, and more.

It feels like somewhere along the way, today’s woman, and what it means to be female in this day and age, got confused between the podcasts, blogs, Facebook posts, wedding magazines, and parenting books.
The “feminists” of the 60s-70s who fought so hard for equal pay and career mobility began pushing the idea of breaking glass ceilings, and many of us thought that sounded cool until we wondered what exactly the ceiling was, and is shattering it what we really wanted to do in the first place?
Then the college educated-turned housewife clan began harkening back to sustainable living – cloth diapers, organic food, childcare in the home, and craft projects – and while maybe those ideas helped us feel human, what about wearing the pants suits and breaking barriers?

To me, American culture seems to gravitate towards the extremes. We lack insight into balance and finding that elusive middle way. However, on the topic of today’s woman and the female identity, balance is exactly what I think we need. We need the ability to extend to each other (across all categories, but especially woman to woman), acceptance.

It’s hard – identity is hard.
I’ve always had a sense of self, but this – this adult form of femininity and womanly-ness – has been a challenge sometimes.

Sometimes even the simple choice to wake up in the morning and wear something plaid, or a pants-suit, or whether to cook breakfast for one’s family, or whether to commit to a cause, or pursue an occupation, can mean making a multitude of tiny decisions about what it means to be a female, a lady, a woman.
Some might make these decisions automatically, or simply consider them straightforward, but to me – it’s complicated.

Here’s the thing – I want to be me.

I don’t want to feel like I’m giving up the “dream” if I decide to skip the corporate ladder/tenure track and run a small business out of my house or write for a living. And along with that, I don’t want to feel like I’ve missed out on “womanhood” by choosing a life full of experiences (Career, personal, etc.) sans children and homemaking.

Also, I want to marry a wonderful man. I don’t want my life to be a string of romantic relationships held together by a thread of over zealous feminine independence, and yet I don’t want to lose myself within my relationship. Somehow, I’m not sure how, but somehow I can have both roots and wings (and interdependence!) within a shared love.

I want to wear earrings and get my hair done and wear pink (sometimes) because I like feeling attractive and beautiful, but I don’t want to be objectified either (and sometimes I feel just as beautiful in jeans and a t-shirt too). I want to be respected for my thoughts and contributions to any sort of project or task, because I’m a thinking person with valid ideas to share, not because I have to prove myself above and beyond my male counterparts.

At any rate…my feminine identity is a work in progress.

Do men face these same questions I wonder? Is the male identity more or less clear than the female one? And if it is in fact clearer, are men satisfied with the identity options presented to them?

Thanks for reading,
S

Chicago Part 3: Swing City

And then there was: Swing City.
The third installment in our Chicago-based adventure.

Dan and I headed out to Swing City, an annual gathering of West Coast Swing enthusiasts held in the Chicago area. This year, Swing City was held at the Westin in Lombard, IL, which was a classy hotel surrounded by all the usual suburban necessities (there was literally a Target across the parking lot and access to over a dozen different mid-level restaurant chains).

Dan had found the event’s website and information on the Internet and we registered in advance and reserved a nearby hotel room.

The registration process was simple – the website had an accessible interface whereby you could insert your information and pay with a credit/debit card or PayPal. There were a variety of options: registering for specific portions of the event (i.e., just workshops, just social dancing, just Saturday or Sunday, etc.), registering for everything all weekend, or to show up as a spectator (which was free!)

Dan actually participated in activities held over two days (Friday night and Saturday), while I bought a one-day pass for Saturday day-time only.

Between the two of us, we attended about eight different West Coast Swing workshops over the two days. For the cost of registration (approximately $60 for me, and $50-something for him with a student rate), that was a bargain. Not to mention that we learned from teachers whom we would normally never have the occasion to meet nevermind learn from, and we were able to take in a broad cross-section of workshops that address all different areas of our dancing/dance experience.

Here are a few highlights:

Footwork – this was a really neat workshop where we were taught how to essentially fill a measure (or phrase, depending) with footwork that deliberately either “slowed down” or “sped up” the feel. What I appreciated the most about the class was the teacher, Mario Robau, who even though we’d seen his name come up a time or two in Austin, we’d never had the chance to take a class with. Not only did Mario have a seasoned approach to teaching, he also kept things light with humor, and shared some of his own experiences as a dancer and teacher that helped make the dance process more human. One thing I appreciated was the the class was taught both to us as individuals (i.e., leaders on one side of the room and followers on the other), and as pairs (i.e., as coupled dancers rotating partners). I really appreciate this approach because it allows me to improve on my own skills as a dancer well as my skills as a follower. (Some of you would say these should be one-in-the-same and maybe for a Ballroom purist they would be, but not coming from me who has been a dancer in some form since I was a kid.)

Musicality- this workshop was especially useful for Dan and I as we’d recently had a conversation about fitting dance to music. For those out there who dance regularly, you’ll know that fitting patterns to music can be a little tricky, as sometimes we’re taught to count steps and those may/may not match up with the phrasing/timing of the music we’re dancing too. At any rate, this workshop helped us get beyond counting the steps and thinking more about the music.
(Though I will say, I think in some ways guys have it harder when it comes to partner dancing. They not only have to learn how to lead, but they also have to think about which pattern to do when, monitor the beat of the music, and in the case of same dances, navigate around other couples. Tricky!)

Connection- this workshop went back to the essentials; bettering connection with one’s partner and truly dancing from a lead-follow perspective. This was definitely useful, as connection has been a difficult thing for me to master, at least. What helped the most was closing my eyes and paying greater attention to any signals I might feel. For me, I often enter this quasi-trance state while dancing where I’m swept up in the music/vibe and can forget to pay attention to what the leader is initiating. This workshop was certainly helpful in curbing my dance-induced spacey-ness; though I’ll admit, truly letting go and just moving is what I love the most about dancing, so I’m not sure I’ll ever be a top notch follower in that regard.

Now, one of the major draws for Swing City is the competitions. Though we did not compete, there were Jack & Jill competitions as well as others. The experience may differ if you were attending in order to compete (for instance we noticed most workshops were in the morning/afternoon, while most competitions were in the evenings- and went late into the night).

A few tips:
– Plan time for transportation; being that Lombard is about an hour or so outside of Chicago and at least 40 minutes from O’Hare Airport, plan accordingly – we booked an airport shuttle in advance which worked well.
– Register in advance; for us the process was very simple and stress-free. Why spend your time waiting in line when you could be learning or dancing, anyway.
– Bring snacks; the workshops have 15 min breaks in between so there isn’t time to eat a meal but after dancing, or even just trying to stay mentally focused on what you’re learning, you’ll be hungry
– Shop around for a hotel and food; we stayed at a Hyatt next door and saved about $40 a night on our room and the hotel offered complimentary shuttle rides to the Westin (which was maybe 1/2 mile away); we also ate at a Greek restaurant nearby which was completely delicious but not a national chain

At any rate, should you ever find yourself available in late October, check out Swing City in the Chicago area. We definitely found it worthwhile.

Check out Swing City Chicago.

Thanks for reading,
S

Honesty

Sometimes it can be hard to be honest.

I’m not talking about the little white lies we might tell a friend in a t-shirt that’s a little unflattering (but that you know is her favorite), or how we simply nod to the (opposite) political opinions of a coworker.

I’m talking about the kind of honesty that gets…well, messy.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m being a good partner.
I know how to be loving, caring, supportive, and patient (at least most of the time), but what happens when I need more love, care, support and patience, than I’m giving back?

My parents, and others in long-standing relationships, have often told me: “sometimes relationships are 50-50 but often they are 60-40 or 20-80.” The logical side of me understands this. If one of us is going through something particularly difficult or challenging, then okay, for a defined period of time one of us will give (or need) more than the other. But what if that difficult event is more of a journey vs. a discrete incident?

All of us bring baggage to our relationships – past experiences, for better or worse, color our present.
And some experiences are a bit more universal: childhood growing pains, lessons from previous relationships, etc. But what about when the baggage we bring is beyond the “standard size limits” and ends up being more of a checked bag than a carry on?

I’ve mentioned my back injury before in other posts, but the truth is, it has left me with lots of crap (for lack of a better word) to deal with, and by virtue of that, it has also left my partner with lots of crap to deal with.

Some days I just don’t feel well (sore, stiff, cranky because pain kept me up at night), and other days, I feel okay physically, but mentally/emotionally I’m upset (because I have to yet again, accommodate my life to my injury). Currently, because the personal injury lawsuit tied to my back issues continues, there are days when I just feel the downward weight of being unable to emotionally move forward with my life and start my post-injury chapter.

Trauma sucks.

But now, I’m speaking for two. It sucks for me, and it sucks for Dan too.

On the surface there are things that I can’t do: I can’t dance for as long as or as well as Dan (which impedes on our partner dancing), I have trouble vacuuming my apartment or doing laundry without some pain, I can’t sit or stand for long periods of time, I can’t join Dan in rock climbing (something he really enjoys), and so on.

There are things that I can do, but only with adjustment: I can fly in a plane or go to an open-air concert in the park if I bring a lumbar support pillow, we can cuddle in bed if I’m laying flat on my back or on my side, I can drive beyond an hour at a time if we stop to take breaks and I bring my pillow, etc.

And there are things that I can do on my own: love Dan and communicate that as much as possible (in person, email, notes, by bringing him food or little gifts, showing affection, etc.).

I try to focus on the positives – without those, I’d be lost in the doldrums of despair. But it’s hard to know that in certain areas, I’ll never be able to meet Dan halfway, or maybe even 1/3 of the way. I want Dan to be able to love a better version of me; a me without this injury and all its physical and emotional baggage. I want to be able to give Dan 110% in all areas of our lives, rather than 100% here, 40% there, and 60% there.

But I have to realize that I am how I am. And that I do offer some really great things (love, compassion, support…) that make me, and our relationship, special.

I also have to admit that I have not always held up my end of the bargain.
I have to work harder at maintaining my own health and living up to my promise to be the best me, and the best partner, I can be. I haven’t been so great at this lately. I walk daily, we dance at least twice a week, I tried Pilates, I started going to Yoga, I am mindful of what I eat, and I get rest and shower, but I need to do more.

With a chronic health issue, I just have to accept that the minimum is not going to be enough – I am always going to have to try a little bit harder and do a little bit more. This idea makes me angry; I didn’t ask to be injured, it’s not my fault that I’m stuck with the back of a middle-aged woman for the rest of my life. I’m working through these feelings as I can, but it’s fair enough to say that I have to move forward as much as I can.

And tomorrow is too late to start being a better me.

I deserve a better me, and so does Dan. I’m not saying I’ll ever be able to give 100%, but maybe I can improve my 40% to 45%. Just maybe…and if not, I still have to try.

So I’m turned inside out and I’m being honest.

I wish I didn’t have this baggage, but I do, and I need to be responsible for it as best I can. And to that end, I need to realize that I can offer lots of great things, even if those things aren’t the same ones my partner provides me.

*sigh*
Life is a journey.
S

Chicago Part 2: Morton Arboretum

If you happen to find yourself in the Lombard area of Chicago and you like the outdoors, it’s worth visiting the Morton Arboretum.

While Dan was learning a few new Swing moves, I ventured out in the late afternoon to check it out.

Simply beautiful.

The Arboretum is set back from a semi-busy local highway and is set up as almost a cross between a botanical garden and a state park. There are a variety of hiking and walking trails of varying length and difficulty and even a few unique items such as sculptures (the Columns by the Conifers; scarecrows made by some local elementary students) and bodies of water (a walking pond by the entrance; some wetlands/marsh areas).

The grounds are replete with trees and vegetation from all over the country and the world. Perhaps my two favorite sections were the trees from Korea and the Maples (classic, I know), though the Conifers were certainly robust and gorgeous as well.

For those who have spent time in a deciduous forest walking trails or just wandering, you’ll immediately recognize the deliciously earthy smell of the vibrant undergrowth, lush trees, and trails covered in wood chips. The clean air and quiet clearings are worthwhile in and of themselves, and certainly harken to the writings of Frost and Thoreau though Chicago is a bit West of New England.

I feel at home surrounded by nature, as though I could just lie down and feel absorbed by the raw earth and caressed by the wind. Being at the Arboretum certainly brought back all such feelings, and reminded me that even in a time when so much of our lives is focused on getting from one location and task to the next, reconnecting with our environment deserves our time too. I’m not talking trading in a loft apartment for a tree house (though that could be fun!), I’m merely suggesting that reminding ourselves of our humanity and affiliation with nature is gratifying (for me, anyway). Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought so, as on the afternoon I visited, near a “Life is Beautiful” sculpture, a couple was taking their wedding photographs.

At any rate, should you ever find yourself in the Western suburbs of Chicago, or just desirous of a taste of nature – check out the Morton Arboretum.

Credit: Fall at Morton Arboretum by Chicago Wilderness Mag

Chicago Part 1: Tandem Traveling

Firstly, Dan and I went to Chicago for a few days which will provide the fodder for the next few blog posts.

Secondly, it was an AWESOME trip.

Thirdly, onto this post…

We didn’t exactly jump on a bicycle built for two and ride from Austin to Chicago (as this post’s title might imply), but we definitely experienced the adventure that is traveling as a pair.

Dan and I have both traveled individually. Each of us grew up in places and moved away for school and jobs. We’ve visited sites with family members, and independently visited friends in different places/cities/locales. But this time we were together.

Maybe you think I’m paying this more attention than it merits – “yeah, you took a trip together, so what?”
But traveling as a pair can pose both pros and cons…

We vs. Me
When you’re traveling solo you can do whatever you want, whenever you want.
Want to go backpacking on a nearby mountain ridge all day? Do it. Want to eat five black and white cookies for dinner? Do it. Want to hang by the hotel pool? Do it. Want to hit as many landmarks and places of historical register as possible within 12 hours? Do it.

But with a partner, there are two sets of interests and two sets of needs. This is where the art of negotiation/compromise can come into play. “I’ll go with you to the Museum of Weaponry if you’ll spend two hours deep sea fishing, etc.”

Dan and I have some different interests/methods when it comes to traveling. I like museums/zoos/art, while Dan prefers just wandering around neighborhoods and people watching/meeting. While neither of us take our health for granted, I’m more inclined towards letting my tastes rule my palette while vacationing (re: desserts!), while Dan likes to keep a closer watch on calories consumed, read restaurant reviews, etc.

However, we also have some similar interests/methods:
— We worked together to plan out trip logistics (flights, transportation, accommodations, etc.) before heading out.
— When given the choice, we both preferred the cheaper option (i.e., public transit over taxi), but were willing to make concessions when time was a factor (i.e., taking a car from the suburbs to the City area, vs. a bus and two subways which would’ve taken twice as much time).
— We wanted to spend some time dancing together.
— We both enjoy theatre and agreed on a few plays to see and bought tickets ahead of time.
— We wanted to eat food/try things that we were less likely to find at home.

But despite the similarities there were those moments of slight annoyance:
— When Dan would want to practice a dance move just one more time and I was feeling tired.
— When it was dark and wet, and I read the map wrong, causing us to spend more time walking around downtown in the cold rain.

One thing that I think helped us immensely, was having multiple conversations about the trip well before getting on the plane. The initial conversations were about where to travel to, and secondary conversations helped us determine what the trip would look like and what was important to each of us. For instance, Dan was interested in Swing City Chicago, meeting up with his friend Shawn and catching plays. I was interested in the Morton Arboretum, swimming in the hotel pool, visiting a site or two (Art Institute, Shedd Aquarium), and catching plays. We were able to schedule in Swing City, the Arboretum, spending time with Shawn, and a few plays. I also snuck in a short stint in the hotel pool.

Anyway…we were flexible in that we tried to accommodate as much of each others’ desires as we could with the time we had- but having those conversations and fleshing out the logistical details BEFORE getting on the ground in the Windy City helped in two ways:
1) it allowed us both to have a running/accessible itinerary in our heads of what was happening when, and where each of us would be
2) it meant that neither of us carried expectations into the trip that went unmet — which meant we left the trip with a very positive feeling of togetherness and fulfillment, vs. a feeling of disappointment

Luckily, Dan and I both went into this trip with the same overarching objective: enjoy and spend as much quality time together as possible. And so, while we both compromised and made concessions at certain points, our end goal was the same, and truthfully, I think each of us had a really wonderful time with each other. (Plus, let’s be honest, how incredible is it to share something new and fun with the person you love?)

More to come on our trip in subsequent posts. 🙂

What about you – what travel experiences (positive or negative) have you shared with a partner?

Thanks for reading,
S