Mar 192012

This past winter in Chicago has been surprisingly warm and it’s been fantastic. Normally, it’s blistering cold and dreary and it kinda sucks, but the universe must love us because we’ve had a series of sunshiny days. As much as I appreciate this glorious weather, it wasn’t enough to recharge my battery. It was time to get away.

My family and I took a work/fun trip to Orlando. Why Orlando? Well, because it’s warm and sunny. Plus, it’s kid friendly. Last, but not least my parents and brother live there and I miss them. It’s the ideal vacation spot for us.

As usual, I packed a week before and wrote an itinerary. I planned to spend most of my time maxin’ and relaxin’. Thing is, I have a hard time relaxing on vacation because I have oodles of energy. I wake up every morning at six a.m. without an alarm clock and with the kind of oomph I crave in my normal, everyday life. Where this comes from I don’t know, but I’m glad I have it. It gives me a few hours to spend alone.

We stayed at my parent’s home, which is about twenty minutes from MCO. They live in the boonies. The boonies equals limited cell phone reception, acres of land between homes, no street lights, deer crossing signs, darkness and crickets. At first, it weirded me out. It was too quiet. I didn’t have anything to do. Idle hands and all. I’m used to constant multi-tasking, but Orlando was challenging me to sit down and take a break. After twenty-four hours, I began to appreciate the quietness and the quirkiness of the south.

The last time I was in Orlando was four years ago. Things look a bit different now, more built up. The streets were reminicent of Chicago highways except everybody in Orlando drives between fifty and seventy mph. There are no minor fender benders. They also have a Family Dollar and Family General within a block of each other and I swear they are the exact same store! There are also horses all over the place, which of course I wanted to ride, but didn’t get the chance to. Note to self: must make horse-owning friends in Orlando, Florida. The nearest convenience store was at a gas station that wasn’t convenient at all, but that’s the beauty of the boonies – ample amounts of space.

Every time we visit, my husband says the same thing. He could not live there. I used to say that, but I am growing fond of that old place. It’s a place for me to get away whenever I need to recharge my battery. Of course, part of its charm is that my parents and brother live there. They are my allies and it’s good to connect with your allies every once in a while. I also like being forced to unplug from my normal life because given the chance I know I wouldn’t. Other pluses are the sun and having long conversations with people I really like. It was all rather wonderful.

I so needed that time away.

When you need a break from your regular life, do yourself a favor and take a vacation. It will do you mind, body and soul a lot of good.

Check out these photos of the world of Harry Potter at Universal Studios:

Happy traveling folks!

Dec 192011

In September of 1999, I was traveling thru London. It was rainy, then sunny, then rainy again. One night, I decided to see what the London nightlife was all about. I went to call a cab since I wasn’t all that familiar with the Tube. Turns out, I couldn’t make outgoing calls from inside my hostel, so I left to find a phonebooth. It was 10 p.m. I was alone. I headed towards the little red phonebooths outside of St. Paul’s Cathedral. They were a few blocks away, down a long, cobblestone street filled with random wine bars and the such; mildly populated. Up to that point, I was fearless. I was a Chi-town, street-smart cookie. Besides, I had just traveled to Paris by myself and I was careful, I watched my back and I always trusted my instincts. Up to that point, they served me well.

When I reached the phonebooth, I opened the door and went inside. I shut the door and began dialing with my back towards door, with my back towards the door. This is when I heard a noise; a boom-like sound. It was startling. I turned around. A man was pulling the door open. He was white. He had long, curly hair and was wearing a parka with black jeans. His eyes were black, saccadic and wild. He attempted to pull me out by the lapel of my jacket and he didn’t say a word. His silence frightened me. I had no time to think and just enough time to react. I watched the phone drop from my hand in slow motion when this voice came from my mouth; a shrill B-horror movie scream. I’d never heard it before and haven’t heard it since. And then my words: “What are you doing? What are you doing? Get off of me! What are you doing?” And then it happened; my fight mode kicked in. I lifted my hands and gave the guy one solid push to the chest. He barely flinched. I pushed again; harder this time. He flew back, feet in the air and all, and that’s when I took off running back to the hostel looking back the whole way; warning other women of a predator near the phonebooths.

When I got back to the hostel, I told the front desk what happened and they called the police. They came and took my report. They said if my attacker wanted to do something, he would’ve done something, but I disagreed. My fighting response startled him, almost as if he never anticipated it and I think this is what saved me.

I used to think my fight response came from growing up in Chicago. I was taught to always make scene, to scream fire instead of help if anybody ever pulled me into a dark alley, to fight no matter what and that’s exactly what I did. Could my fight response be cultural? Maybe, maybe not. I now think my fight response was instinctive. Where that instinct came from, I don’t know. Looking back, I’m just glad I had it.

I continued to travel from London to Krakow without any other incidences, but I was on edge after that; especially when I was in a phonebooth, when somebody that looked like him passed nearby, or if I was the only woman on the street. For a long time after, I saw that guys face in my head when I lay down to go to sleep.

The good news is that nothing physically happened to me. I am still here, alive and doing well. I protected myself the best way I knew how and for whatever reason it worked. I don’t ever think about what could have happened and in a lot of ways I have moved on, but I would be a fool to say that it didn’t scar or rob me of that safe feeling we’re all supposed to have.

Before this incident, I felt fearless and after, I was afraid to venture out in the dark alone in my own city. To this day, I’m always afraid of what could happen. I know that some people may view this as silly or stupid even, but I was the one who lived through it and in some minute way, I feel that I can control this from happening again if I’m cautious enough. Of course, I know this is just a false sense of security, but it gets me through the day. And now a cliché thrown in for good measure: I never thought it could happen to me, but it did.

Although I wish this never happened, it helped me realize what kind of reaction I would have if I were ever attacked again. I’m positive that I would fight. Do you know if you’re you a fighter or do you freeze when you feel threatened? How do you know?

For years, I retold this story in a humorous way, but it’s not humorous. It’s scary.

I’m not telling this story now to warn people to watch their backs, although I think everybody should. I’m telling this story because I think it’s incidences like these that you can pull from and use in your writing. I’m not talking about the actual account, but the feelings and emotions.

This is the epitome of, “write what you know.” It’s not writing about a specific incident that happened to you, it’s writing about the emotions surrounding those situations: the fear, the rush of adrenaline, the idea that somebody you don’t know is trying to harm you. These are the things readers relate to. These are the things that make your writing authentic. It’s the reading and knowing that you’ve felt those same things that is reassuring and appreciated by many readers.

To all the writers out there, use what you have and what you know. Dig those memories out of the recesses of your mind and put your feelings to the page. It’s your turn to create explosive pieces of art.