New Tires

Like most other Midwesterners, I have greeted the new year by indulging in typical January fantasies.

I have given dream space to whisking away to a warm-weather destination (within three-hours by plane) or a high-end spa (thirty minutes by Uber) where I could feel peaceful and pampered, where my biggest worry would be how much to tip.

But before I let my mind travel too far down this road, I considered how much of my Christmas bonus would be left after bills and budgeting for my February property tax installment. (Like I said, I’m a Midwesterner.)

I also thought about my car, a 2013 Toyota, approaching 40,000 miles. It needed care and attention, too.

This past week, while the roads were dry, and my workload was small, I made an appointment for my car. Whatever it needed, I told myself.

It was no surprise when the mechanic/manager, after dropping off the car at 8:00 AM, called me back at 10:00 with an estimate. Donatella Corolla (I have a tradition of naming my cars) did need an oil change, a few different types of filters, and a set of tires.

There was no question about having the work done, no issue about making the purchase, but I found myself contemplating the meaning of the expenditure. I didn’t want to frame it in terms of what fun thing I couldn’t allocate my cash to because I HAD to pay for car maintenance.

I remember an old theory of sales and marketing that basically says that people don’t spend money on things, on innovative electronics, or fancy threads. The bill for an incredible twelve-course meal cannot be broken into dollars per course.

People don’t buy things, or even experiences. People spend money on how they think the thing will make them feel, on some quality they want that they associate with owning the thing or having the experience.

Status, being the first on their block (or in their office), youth, a romantic notion of uniqueness or being a sort of rebel – these are examples of what people actually want to BUY.

So, I asked myself what I was hoping to get from the well rated, but modest, set of all-weathers.

I liked the fact that no one could accuse me of negligence or of being irresponsible.

I used to have a mechanic friend who would joke with me about the ploys a manufacturer would use to create income for their dealers’ service centers.

Do you know what to do when this light on you dashboard goes on? he would ask rhetorically... Cover the light with electrical tape.

But the car’s original tires were rated for 40,000 miles, and 40,000 is 40,000. This was not a case of a manufacturer setting up their aftermarket. Wear and tear is real.

I considered greater control and safety — confidence — as the qualities I hoped to acquire. And, in the most direct sense, this was true. I don’t like winter driving to begin with, and new tires makes the prospect of getting somewhere on slick roads much easier to live with.

But in conducting this little what’s in it for me exercise, I reminded myself that all the decisions I make are made in support of my best interests. It behooves me to take time and contemplate what actions are really in my best interest in different situations.

I’ve made greater self-care my theme and goal for the year. I have exercise goals and social goals, and goals related to creative projects I want to re-visit, if not finish. But, ultimately, I want to consider every decision, every action, from the lens of self-care.

Yes, my tires were rated to need replacement at this time, but I actually made the purchase because I WANTED TO TAKE GOOD CARE OF MYSELF.

Being aware that popping for new treads for my travels is in line with my larger goal –- taking good care of myself — is no small thing.

 

Turn, Turn, Turn

Upon learning that I went to the art show at Navy Pier over a recent weekend, a few friends asked me if I saw anything that I especially liked.

They know I love to opinion-ate and considered that I might be an enthusiastic messenger for some budding trend.

Well, I began, there was a lot of colorful blown glass, which I always appreciate, but I can’t think of any special method or material that captivated me.

There was one thing I saw though, I went on, that made my day…and I went on to recount the story…

Upon entering the exhibition space and seeing a seemingly endless cement floor partitioned into 20 or 30 foot carpeted mini galleries, I devised my plan. First, I would take the long aisle to the farthest side, near the little café they set up, and walk my way back to the entrance crisscrossing the shorter aisles.

The exhibition areas were numbered and had ample signage should anyone want to trace their way back for a second look at something. As I didn’t have buying anything in mind, it was simple enough to focus on the ceramics and paintings and sculptures I saw and keep walking

Smaller items sat in well-lit Plexiglas cases. Larger items were positioned against clean walls so they could make bigger impressions. All the objects were displayed to their best advantage.

Besides wearing lanyards or laminated nametags, it was generally easy to spot the artists. They had a certain sense of style. Even if on a budget, their outfit, or streak in their hair, or unusual eyeglass frames seemed to be carefully picked out. It was obvious they cared about how they looked.

I also listen to the banter between visitors.(It’s amusing to hear what someone likes or what they don’t like and why.)

And I like to hear the artists PITCH their work.

Many artists feel very uncomfortable with this, but they are only half-done after they sign a piece. Their work needs to be selected to get into a group show or purchased to be displayed in someone’s home before what they do can be enjoyed.

…So, I had just reached the end of an aisle. I saw a short stack of shallow boxes composed of blonde wood, maybe 20” by 30”, leaning against a faux wall. Each was filled with folds of colored paper, maybe two inches deep, in various hues. The continuous meandering folds gave the pieces extra depth.

I could see that each of the three pieces were renditions of the same idea only in different palettes. Two young artists, Japanese men, wearing dark-framed, narrow glasses and not your father’s type of sports jackets, had successfully drawn a couple, potential buyers, a few steps in from the aisle to look at their work up close.

One of the men held up a piece.

You can hang it this way, he said…

Then he rotated it 90 degrees to the right.

Or this way…

And again, he turned the frame another quarter turn..

Or this way…

The young couple nodded silently as if they were being indoctrinated to a great secret of the universe.

Well of course, when you rotate any piece of abstract art, it shows up differently. It conjures up different moods and associations.

I had to keep from laughing that this bit of information seemed positively revelatory to these potential buyers.  It seemed obvious to me.

But as I left the show, I was grateful for the reminder.

Knowing that there can always be something new in your life when you dare to look at something differently is no small thing.

 

White Christmas

Some families make a yearly ritual out of dragging home a Frazier Fir from a parking lot/temporary nursery. Many mother-daughter duos go into a cookie baking frenzy that would put Pepperidge Farm to shame.

My annual Christmas tradition involves going to the Music Box Theatre for their annual Christmas show.

For two weeks leading up to the 25th, they offer a double feature consisting of Frank Capra’s classic It’s a Wonderful Life and the very camp musical, White Christmas starring crooner Big Crosby and childhood favorite funnyman, Danny Kaye.

Anchored by a sing-along with Santa and house organist, even a Grinch couldn’t help but break into a smile. I usually skip It’s a Wonderful Life (content to view one of its many airings on TV) and come out with a group of friends for White Christmas (and the sing-along).

I’ve been observing this tradition for around fifteen years.

I’m always amazed by how tiny Vera Ellen’s waist is, shown off in many of the dance numbers. I think about Rosemary Clooney’s connection to heart throb George Clooney. I never fail to laugh at the line housekeeper Emma says in reference to her job for Major General Tom Waverly; that she alone could do the job previously performed by 15,000 men -– even though I’ve heard the line dozens of times.

Going to the Music Box for White Christmas…It’s so familiar. I know almost every line. But it’s never boring.

I like to introduce new people to this cherished tradition.  It helps keep the tradition fresh.

My friend Holly fist introduced me to White Christmas at the Music Box years ago. We now wear our red Santa hats or reindeer headbands and try to invite another friend who has never been before.

Over the years, I’ve brought along, Susan C. and Nancy R. and Sandy and Rob and others. My pleasure seems to be enhanced by thinking that my friends are having a memorable first time experience.

During some of the musical numbers or audience participation parts (like when an over-served audience member makes a ba-a-a-ah bleating sound during the Crosby-Clooney lyric “When I’m worried and cannot sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep…”), I’ll catch myself looking down the row to catch the expression of the White Christmas newbie I brought.

I try to remember my own first time.

I want them to love the tradition as much as I do. It’s not just about the movie, which features great songs and dances and the wonderful irony of a nice Jewish boy from New York, Irving Berlin, creating one of most beloved Christmas songs. It’s about being in a large auditorium where EVERYONE is practicing their own family ritual within a bigger one.

I can make out groups of people who BELONG to each other. Groups of individuals will be dressed as elves, or WWII soldiers, or reindeer, or decked out in some costume from the movie.

And doesn’t that reflect a bigger story; that within our tribe, we belong to a larger family?

We all know the lyrics to fuller or lesser degrees. We all forget lines and can’t get others out of our heads.

After having such a good time, many of us will think about who we can invite next year.

Sharing a tradition with your peeps and inviting new people to share something you love in the company of others doing the same is no small thing.

 

Midnight Circus

midnight-circusLight and fluffy snowflakes are coming down. I hear the sound of my neighbor running a shovel blade across the walk. I have food in the fridge and nowhere I have to be.

Here, at home, life seems very peaceful. Inside the snow globe, the movements of the world seem like MAGIC.

At this time of year, TV commercials show new luxury cars tied up in red bows sitting on suburban driveways, sending sparks of glee to the lucky family who unties the ribbon and enjoys keyless entry and the envy of their neighbors (at low monthly rates).

This image is supposed to convey the MAGIC of the season.

But I have another recent memory of magic, one that is far simpler and feels far truer.

Back in October, I went to see The Midnight Circus, at nearby Welles Park. During the summer months, The Chicago Shakespeare Theatre stages productions of the Bard’s works in neighborhood parks.

During September and October, The Midnight Circus sets up its tent, and parks its popcorn machine in many of the same parks.

I had no recent experience of going to the circus. I remember when I was around four, my father pulled some strings to get front row seats to the Ringling Brothers Circus.

My sister, who was only one year older, and I got upset and scared by the humongous elephants. And when the clowns (face it, clowns are pretty scary) pulled a stunt where they pretended to set their hair on fire — well, we screamed so loudly, that our poor father had to take us home.

The Midnight Circus was a much tamer affair. The largest animals they had were dogs no bigger than a Cocker Doodle. There was a high wire act, but the wire was about as high as a basketball net.

The circus troop consisted all of young people, spanning in age from ten to twenty-five. Mostly acrobats and jugglers, they wore tight fitting and colorful outfits and moved with energy and grace.

There was no balding middle-aged ringmaster in a top hat and red jacket with gold epaulets. And thankfully, there were no scary clowns.

A very eclectic range of music was amplified and, except for one intermission, there was no stoppage. I watched a constant flow of acts.

A young girl dangled from the top of the tent on a large swatch of purple cloth, arranging her Gumby doll-like body into configurations I didn’t think possible.

A teenage couple leapt and danced across a wire, stepping through hoops and tossing each other different objects from opposite ends.

There were comical chase scenes and dancing segments featuring the whole ensemble. Two hours of non-stop entertainment. In my little neighborhood. UNDER THE BIG TOP.

I enjoyed the skill and simple beauty of human bodies in motion, but there was another element that was MAGICAL to me.

As I looked around the crowd, maybe around two hundred in total, all sitting on benches, arranged in tiered circles, everybody’s eyes were on the performers. There were families with young children and twenty-somethings on dates. All ages were represented – and nowhere did I see the glow of a smart phone.

This shouldn’t be so rare, but I’ve been to too many concerts and too many nice restaurants where it seemed that the main attraction was texting cryptic conversations with people who were not around.

Here, people were sharing an actual experience in real time. They were seeing the same thing at the same time and fed off of everyone else’s awe and delight. Everyone together under the big top. To me, this was magic.

Enjoying entertainment with friends and neighbors – in the moment — is no small thing.