Little Puerto Rico

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How much do you really know about Puerto Rico ? The island is part of the United States, but few people really understand the culture or the territory that comes with it. There are many similarities between Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries like Mexico and the Dominican Republic, but there is one underlying difference : the Northeast Corridor. To discount this incredible region of biodiversity would be to miss the defining characteristic of this geographic location.

I live in Humboldt Park, which is little Puerto Rico of Chicago. It’s all about street culture: street art, street food, and street music. Cumbia and tango blast from the neighborhood joints on the weekends, and it’s not uncommon to hear music coming from jukeboxes as families picnic in the fields of the park.

You should not be afraid of Humboldt Park. It’s a convenient location to get close to nature, play a pickup game of soccer, or go swimming in the playa (much cleaner than Lake Michigan). The historic boathouse is the symbol of Puerto Rican culture. See the kids go in one day and emerge as adults 12 years later; the Puerto Rican community is strong and nurturing, propping up all the children to be proud of their Borinquen culture. Plus, Humboldt Park is just a hop, skip, and jump away from the loop, with an awesome view of the skyline as you hike through the greenery, the weeping willows framing your view.

Try some plaintain in the park, say “hello” to the old grandpas playing cards on the corner of California and Division, and frequent some of the local haunts, like Hunter and Tail and Bullhead Cantina. This is a place to celebrate diversity and let go of your apprehension about people who don’t act and look and think like you do. Just embrace the difference and see what’ll become of the time you spend here.

Natural Healing

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Nature is nurture. Neither of them beat each other in a test, because humans made that test up, and nature will always trump humans. When I was fortunate enough to have a forest in my backyard, I figured out the age-old secret : flora and fauna are the soul’s free green medicine.

We lived in a shabby two-story house in Dunlap, IL, and I remember thinking how big everything was. The carpet in my bedroom was Pepto-Bismol pink, and I loved it. My sister was in a photography class, and once she used me as a model for a photo shoot in the forest preserve. I jumped at the opportunity and begged her to do it again constantly. One day, I was left alone at home for what I was told would be 10 minutes. But when you’re a kid, 10 minutes seems like forever, and there are bigger worlds out there than the virtual one glaring at you from the TV screen.

So I opened the forbidden patio door and ran out in to the forest, taking in all the fresh smells and rolling in the brown leaves like a feral child released from captivity. Then I ran to my neighbor’s house, because I was locked out. Even though I got in trouble later, exercising my spirit was worth it to my pea-brained, selfish, spur-of-the-moment being. It wasn’t so much about getting to the trees as it was being able to take it all in and let it all out simultaneously.

To this day, I still see the forest before the trees. Hiking, canoeing, taking nature walks, and galavanting through sand and stone are the times when I feel most at home. Indoors, I am restless. Unless an outstanding book or movie catches my attention, I’d much rather be outside in the city listening to music, although the latter is unnecessary. Because who needs headphones when nature’s symphony is all around us ?

Festival Fanaticism in Chicago

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Festival season is upon us. Now that the sun has come out and the snow and rain have stopped falling, we Northerners have left our homes to bask in the light of day. While some will shed their extra pounds jogging along the lake, others shed their skins and join the crowds at one of Chicago’s many festivals this summer.

From the Taste of Randolph, to the Blues Festival, to Midsommar Fest, the list never ends. The one I can’t wait to attend is the 2nd annual Wavefront Music Festival. From July 5-7, Montrose Beach will blow off the tops of not only Chicago house heads, but people from all across the map. Chicago’s music scene sells itself, but stores like Gramaphone Records and others have been selling tickets like hotcakes to eager gophers ready to get their groove on at Lake Michigan.

This is a massive shindig with the hottest, most talented electronic musicians planet Earth has to offer. Mainstream mavericks like Nicolas Jaar and Cedric Gervais will be spinning alongside newcomers like Nadia Ali and Fehrplay during the July 4th holiday weekend. Rain or shine, the sand will be shaking beneath your feet for 3 days straight.

Music lovers across the world now have something else to talk about that doesn’t involve where to get neon headbands and slated sunglasses. Some of Chicago’s finest will be performing alongside international talent, including Derrick Carter, Michael Serafini, Frankie Knuckles, Ralphi Rosario, Mark Farina, Jamie Principle, and Gene Farris.

For more information about this year’s lineup, visit the official Wavefront page.

How to Break up With Your Therapist

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Look in a one-way mirror, like the ones in the play therapy rooms of a psychiatric clinic. You’ll see nothing but yourself and all the germtastic toys piled on top of each other like sinful pancakes. (There better be a hand sanitizer pump in here, otherwise I’m going to kiss this doorknob). On the other side of the mirror looking in is probably your shrink and whoever brought you into therapy. Your family, your partner, and your alter-ego, for example.

You don’t know half your demons. If you think you can name them all faster than your favorite Manga characters, think again. You don’t fully know what’s going on inside that nefarious noggin of yours. A therapist’s job is to put your problems on speed dial. You’ll learn how to be angelic enough to ward off the demons when they pop up unexpectedly, ruining your daily interactions, increasing your self-loathing, and adding to your binge eating habit. That’s assuming you’re capable of such halo-worthy behavior.
We live in an on-the-go American economy. Everyone wants everything pronto, and talk therapy is way less common than it used to be. But shortcuts don’t really work as much as they used to. They were fine when we were kids. We would be walking home from school and duck through a fence with a hole in it to save a few minutes. And those few minutes were precious ! But not anymore. The fast road to mental health usually ends with you flushing your meds down the toilet at 3 AM.
 
Nowadays, if you want to deal with your issues, you can pop pills and chat on comfy couches and write in your leather-bound journal. The self-help articles you cleared from your browser history tell you that everything will get better. So you make your idea lists, dress up and go to the city, exercise, eat right, blah blah blah.
But what happens when you’re sick of paying someone to care about your problems ?
 
When your therapist seems to have one hand in your wallet and the other in your psyche, twisting it around relentlessly, it’s time to take a break. You could leave a shrill voicemail while your meds make an ominous blue puddle at the bottom of your pale porcelain toilet bowl, but that would be tacky. You could also just go in to the office one more time and leave them with a parting gift–cookies, kale chips, postcards, vitamins. Different strokes for different folks.

Just say, “You’re so good at what you do, you’ve put yourself out of business. Congratulations !”

Going at it alone can be great, but make sure that when you come crawling back  you bring chocolate. Nothing says “I’ve missed you” like a bar of Ghirardelli Midnight Reverie. Plus, you can pig out on it while recanting your latest string of failures. Cheers.

How to Learn a Language

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Three people walk in to a London pub. The first is a transgender man named Toro. He holds his head high and smiles at the bartender.

“A vodka tonic, please.”

The second is Lara, a 20-something bohemian woman with big dreams and small feet. She orders a local rosemary beer and sits down next to Toro, the bells on her worn-out boat shoes dangling like a dog collar.

To complete the ensemble, a hairy, plump man slides on to the barstool next to Lara, the buttons on his plaid shirt popping out precariously. The bartender smiles and says “Hey, Phil ! What’ll it be ? The usual ?”

“You got it, Dave,” says Phil.

“I’ll have those out for you in just a couple minutes,” says Dave. A hazy-eyed philosophy masters’ student, Dave generally has just enough money for rent and groceries, but not enough to get a haircut. Which explains his floppy cowlick and subtle charm.

Lara turns to Toro and makes an animated remark in Japanese. Phil pulls out a notebook and begins writing down everything he wants to say in return. You see, Phil’s mother is Japanese, so he can understand the conversation. He just can’t respond. It’s frustrating to have these thoughts bottled up in his brain, like artichoke hearts waiting to be properly pickled. After furiously jotting down two pages of words and expressions, Phil shakes out his achy, calloused hand.

Dave sets all the drinks in front of the trio with a flourish. “Vodka tonic, 312, and a Scotch on the rocks for my buddy.” He grins and puts their check in a shotglass. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Toro whips out a Japanese dictionary and gives it to Lara. “Can you take care of this ? I have to check the news, and I don’t get reception in here for some reason,” he mutters.

“Sure,” laughs Lara. “News junkie.”

Toro slips out the front door while Lara scoots closer to Phil and explains the different verb tenses, slang phrases, and character construction. No doubt about it–Japanese is a totally different beast from English.

“Who would’ve thought this guy would get so good at Japanese ? I remember a few months ago he was slurring his words in English.” Dave smirks, relishing Phil’s low point like a feasted fox.

After pulling the door instead of pushing it, Toro walks back inside briskly, and the two-way exchange becomes even more profound. He and Lara chat about the newly established pipelines and the protesters that are adamantly against their construction. Half-listening, Phil sips his scotch pensively, chiming in at all the right times with accented but correct Japanese. As long as he listens to the radio, his comprehension skills keep improving with each passing day.

Dave looks on from the corner of the bar, fiddling with the ancient record player perched on a wide shelf above the countertop. “Jeez,” he thinks to himself. “Maybe I should start learning a new language. It would definitely help me with school if I learned German.” Without any hesitation, he discreetly pours himself a shot of gin and takes it down in one gulp. The pine-iness prickles his throat, inspiring him to take a chance on his freshly budding intellect. After all, it’s only a short trip to the great Germanic forests of yore from where they are in London.

After his shift, Dave hangs up his apron and walks down the block to the nearest bookstore. He buys a used copy of German 101 with its audiobook accompaniment and saunters over to the nearest park to check out the material. Apparently, eavesdropping and a shot of gin are enough to motivate even the laziest pubman to expand his horizons.

The Finder Things Pattern Conference: Diagram, Ornament, and the Construction of Joy

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The chilly brick warehouse invited any and all into its creativity-inducing spaces for a potluck pattern conference on a beautiful sunny day in East Garfield Park.

Peppered with eclectic vintage sculptures, roaming cats, and DIY instruction books, Catington Station feels more like a friend’s house than a warehouse. The Finder Things, a DIY-inspired collective of Chicago-based artists and entrepreneurs, hosted a conference at Catington Station on Sunday, May 5, 2013. The Pattern Conference was held in conjunction with the monthly Kedzie Stop Market at 3144 W. Carroll. The Kedzie Stop Market is a great way for artists to get their work out to the public. More exposure is a good thing when it comes to crafters, artists, and entrepreneurs. Windy City Mindy had a table full of cheese boards set up for sale, which puts her in direct competition with well-known artisanal shops like Pastoral and Foodstuffs.

Morgan Martinson and her husband Dave started a string of studios in an attempt to make affordable living more accessible for Chicago’s creative crowd. And it worked. Catington Station is now home to Astrolab Studios, Adela Red, and other notable parts of the network.

Designers, artists, business-owners, and musicians all came together to share their views on lifestyle, art, leisure, work, craftsmanship, and more. The “lonely adventure” from a nascent career to a mature livelihood is a long path, and people like Adela Red, Jessica Calek, and Jackie Lerash discussed some of the obstacles freelancers are faced with on a daily basis. They also gave suggestions for successful interdisciplinary collaboration and how to be truly inspired by the work you do.

The presentations ranged from knit artistry to architectural design to a drumming demonstration by author and professional skateboarder Amos Soma Fuller. Explaining linear and cyclical rhythms in beat-keeping, he gave examples of each, showing that patterns are auditory and kinetic as well.

With such a strong community of artists, it is no wonder Chicago is home to the tightest DIY culture in America. The more events Catington Station hosts, the more in-tune we’ll all be with the youthful sentiment of this global shift in cultural consciousness. Capital can be hand-made.

6 Music Genres You May Not Know

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Nothing new in your stereo is a sad, sad thought. Listening to the same old music is a surefire way to bring you down via auditory deprivation. Your ears need music that sounds good, and you’re not getting it from that wasteland known as the radio. Unless you have satellite radio, in which case you’re a step ahead.music

Listening to different types of music not only keeps you stimulated, it gives you something to talk about when you meet someone new. Nothing makes a better conversation starter than a new song you like. Here are some suggestions to expand your musical taste.

1. Americana

What is Americana ? It’s a mix of blue grass, folk, rock, and everything in between. Although this music uses a traditional repertoire of acoustics, it has an electric sound that is unmistakably contemporary. Think Lana Del Rey, Allison Kraus, and Kacey Musgraves.

2. Trip Hop

A mix of hip hop and trance, trip hop started in the UK (specifically, Bristol) in the 1990s and made its way across the pond thanks to promotion and modern technology. It combines downtempo beats from soul, funk, jazz, and hip hop. Tricky, Massive Attack, and Bonobo are examples of the atmospheric, bass-heavy beats that give this genre its urban roots. If you want to know more, NPR’s Vivien Goldman did a recent overview of trip hop.record

3. IDM

An offshoot of the popular electronic dance music so many of us know and love, “intelligent dance music” is a term coined by listeners of electronica that wanted to distinguish the tunes the loved from the rest of the pack. Ambient, groovy, and synthetically produced, IDM is best exemplified by artists like Autechre, Aphex Twin, and Crystal Castles. It’s prodcued in museums, laboratories, and institutes, and it started in the Netherlands (go figure). Although artists think this is a pretentious label, there is an IDM mailing list and community for all those interested in this heady music movement.

4. Tribal House

If you like world music, you’ll love tribal house. It’s a synergy of synthesised drums and ambient sounds that will make your ears do a double take. If dark and deep indigenous rhythm is your thing, check out Afefe Iku, Zoe Badwi, and Robbie Rivera.

5. Gypsy Jazz

Deep in the throes of soulful music is gypsy jazz. Known by some as ‘jazz tsigan’, ‘manouche jazz’, or ‘jazz swing’, Jean “Django” Reinhardt got this ball rolling in France in the 1930s. Reinhardt literally set the bar by making it standard to not using major/minor chords. Instead, the major 7th and 6th chords are substituted for a sound that’s trill-tastically harmonic. Besides Django, John Jorgenson, Stephane Grapelli, and Tim Kliphius are all great places to start being eclectic.

Hopefully your curiosity has led you to listen to at least one of these genres by now. Diversifying your musical collection is an inexpensive way to develop a new interest and share it with other people. Music’s been around forever, and it’s constantly changing. It’s to your benefit to stay on top of those changes and keep your ears entertained.

What’s your take on music ? Classical all the way or modern must-haves ?