Reporting from an Abortion Rally in Oak Park, IL

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Have you ever seen a plastic miniature mold of a dead baby fetus ?

Because I have. The abortion rally on June 26, 2013 in Oak Park, IL drew a crowd of about 30 people outside of Dr. Cheryl Chastine’s office. Dr. Chastine’s work as a physician spans from family practice to abortion procedures. She also travels to perform abortions at a Women’s Center in Wichita, Kansas throughout the year–the very same building in which Scott Roeder murdered the 67-year old physician George Tiller in 2009 for providing 3rd trimester abortions. It is primarily Chastine’s work in the gynecological milieu that has caused such an uprising amongst the pro-lifers of America.
The rally was to begin at 11:30 AM, but people posted their picket signs outside as early as 10:15. With no clear demarcation between sides, I was forced to judge books by their covers (or, in some cases, their neon yellow t-shirts) in order to discover their ideological leanings.
Nora, a student from the University of Chicago, became involved with the cause a year and a half ago when she signed up for the Planned Parenthood action program. It made her angry to know that some people want to ban Planned Parenthood’s plethora of services for women. She gradually started working with the Illinois Choice Action Team to support Dr. Chastine’s work and make a stand.
“We’re grateful for her. She’s a hero, not a monster. These protests are actually a disruption to her life.”
Dr. Chastine has had issues renewing the lease on her Oak Park building due to the negative publicity it has attracted in recent months. Some say that she may not be based out of Oak Park much longer.
Brian, Nora’s classmate, works at the Lumen Cristi Institute in Chicago.
“I’d call the ACLU if they fired me for being here,” he said.
A student of the Divinity School at U of C, Brian brought together two of his passions : theology and activism. But were others able to do the same ?
Directly beside Nora and Brian stood Eric Schneidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League. Eric’s father and founder of the league, Joe Schneidler, hoisted a picket sign of a mangled fetus in silence while Eric spoke animatedly about what brought him to Oak Park despite the scattered showers.
Before working at the PLAL shop in Aurora, his hometown, Eric channelled his energy toward the efforts of the Gift Foundation, a Christian-affiliated non-profit focused on fundamental marriage issues. In 2002, he realized that his past had brought him to a turning point, and he became the communications director for the PLAL.
Eric’s parents got involved in Roe v. Wade because they were shocked that unborn babies were not getting
“… the legal protection they deserve as human beings. They are fully unique, developing, individuals. Pro-choice people will come to me with evidence from an embryologist. For every embryologist, I’ll find you a guy that flunked out of embryology school.”
Among the societal ills listed by Eric Schneidler is a flawed culture of sexuality that is no longer life-giving. A change in ethics and morals, he said, is the only way to move forward as a society. He drew an analogy between the abolitionists of the 19th century and the pro-lifers of today, who he claims are fighting for human rights and social justice for all.
Concerning the recent filibuster in Texas, Schneidler said : “America’s a republic, so I feel a kinship with the people [in Texas].” About State Senator Wendy Davis’s speech, he said : “That lady will have her own conscience and consequences to deal with.” Schneidler may or may not have been alluding to the biblical judgment day.
Is it possible to reconcile religion and science, rational thought and passionate sentiment ? Pro-choicers and pro-lifers are people who whole-heartedly believe in making the world a better place. Their views are informed by cultural narratives and personal experiences that nobody can pinpoint perfectly. Change, it seems, lies in the delicate balance between dialogue and action. As long as constituents continue to question their policy makers, steps will surely be taken. Whether these are forward steps or backward steps are for each individual to decide.

This post was also published in Thought Catalog. You can read the original here.

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.

Irvine Welsh at Lit Fest

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When I met Irvine Welsh at Lit Fest in Chicago, the stadium was not packed. I can’t imagine why, considering the man has written some of the best fiction I’ve ever read, including Crime, Acid House, and Trainspotting. We watched Jennifer Day ask the standard questions and corrected them in our heads, thinking we could’ve done the interview better, banter and all.

Welsh told us he moved to Chicago to escape the monotony of London life. Dealing with high-end publishers is so New York, and he and his wife wanted a change of pace. Chicago, Welshit seemed, offered a reprieve from the non-stop hustle of places like London and New York City without the confetti and cake of Los Angeles. With all the Irish influence in the city, he felt right at home.
After spending hours in pubs making his liver beg for sweet mercy, Welsh realized he had to get down to business. He said that some writers have the great task of reconciling their socialite tendencies with their creative sensibility, which requires them to isolate themselves for days on end with people who don’t exist. These fictional characters become a part of them–he even creates a soundtrack for each character to inspire him to write from a particular perspective.
Welsh’s next novel will focus on the serendipitous encounter of an overweight artist and a personal trainer in Miami. The trainer will sequester the artist in order to monitor her caloric intake, and the two will learn loads from each other about life, love, and all the rest. Sounds satirical, no ?
Welsh quipped about frequenting pubs for “character building”, but his most accurate remark was about the quality of life in America, establishing him as a social critic and a classic Chicagoan. Progressive taxation, he argued, is a must for a society that wants to have healthier workers and higher productivity. Take that, Tea Party.
In his book Ill Fares the Land, Tony Judt argues that progressive taxation leads to a more trusting society that is egalitarian. The crux is that when benefits like health care, unemployment, and time off are similar across the board, people trust each other not to screw each other over for a raise at work or a better deal on car insurance.
A slice of the proverbial pie is available to any and all.
This opportunity makes social reform easier to propose on a grander scale. So the higher our taxes, the more likely we are to lead harmonious lives. Associating higher taxes with happiness is unheard of in modern American culture. Maybe what Welsh means is that it all makes for a fitter, healthier, and harder-working community and that should be Big Brother’s number one priority.
Regardless of whether or not we agree with what Welsh said, it’s important for us to have people with diverging opinions in our country, especially when these people are literary boons and social critics. It’s been years since an author spoke out about anything for fear of jeopardizing their sales.
Irvine Welsh waxed poetic on the formation of the world’s most egotistical, innovative, and productive nation, pointing out weakness to a public with a keen literary sensibility. He also told me that his favourite brand of whiskey is the Scottish Highlander. For his courage, his insight, and his sense of humor, he deserves to stay in America.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Expedition

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To come home from a hiking trip in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is to experience civilization in all of its guts and glory.

Just three days at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore was enough to make me question my style of traveling. Up until this point, I had been taking planes and trains to major cities, dining in fine restaurants, and visiting art museums. I had been feasting my eyes on the creations of humankind, many of which are so ubiquitous that they don’t get pointed out very often.

Looking out at the sunset at Beaver Creek this past weekend, I could see the Earth rotating. My friends and I were lying alone on the silken white sands of the only beach in the world. 20130525_222347My retinas burned with ecstasy, soaking in the soothing opulence of the lake’s diamond ripples like a stagnant sea sponge. Orange, purple, red, pink, and indigo turned the tabula rasa into a tie-died masterpiece that slowly streaked into the steady horizon, reminding us that each day is a new chance to turn it all around.

The following day, we took the North Country trail heading West toward the legendary Chapel Hill landmark and campgrounds. I saw a corduroy cabin in the woods and marveled at the ability of humans to infiltrate even the purest of landscapes. I normally see hundreds of houses a day, but this one brought to light the utility of opposable thumbs. My seclusion struck me in the strangest of ways, punting my pulse into a frenzy at the sight of a lonely log cabin on the edge of the wilderness.

On our final day of hiking, we came upon the Coves. These rocky platelets jutting out into the marine blue depths transported me to the mermaids’ lagoon in Peter Pan. There I was, forever young and surrounded by sirens of the sea. Beethoven’s Million Dollar Quartet came to mind, as did Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. The cloudless sky’s never-ending story pulled me in and set me free simultaneously.

Every bridge hovering above a creek was the bridge to Terabithia, and each ravine rolling into a meadow was an entrance to the Forbidden Forest. All of my fantastical fixations came to the forefront of my consciousness like the full moon when it outshines the stars, conquering the night sky. I half expected to see Aslan the Lion come galavanting into the forest with some Turkish delights stolen from the evil queen.

None of that happened, but there were a couple other magical aspects of my Michigan trip. For one thing, my physical suffering did nothing to detract from my spiritual growth. If anything, the two were, and are, directly related. The more I suffered from physical exhaustion and sleep deprivation, the stronger my will to survive became. And as time slowed down exponentially, my oneness with nature solidified like the shale and sandstone of Mosquito Creek.

Adventure, sport, and spirituality embrace the points on the coveted trinity : body, mind, and soul. Someone once said that experience feeds the brain and nourishes the spirit. It turns out that the cheapest way to travel can leave a person with the richest experiences this world has to offer : sublime sunsets, hearty fires, and waves of peace.

Marketing in the Drone Age

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We are not cyborgs. At least, not yet. Robots don’t crave recreation and novelty, but humans do. The ideal communication curve follows the same trajectory as a frisbee when it sails through the air. The hardest part about getting people excited for new events and ideas lies in the proliferation of avenues to reach them and the distance between sender and receiver. Is it better to use Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, WordPress, or email ? All of the above.

The more engagement there is, the better your brand looks when it sparkles in the sunlight. As your culture of ideas develops, you’ll need something other than word-of-mouth to get your product the exposure it deserves. Just like in frisbee, your goal should be to get the droid-like being on the other side to catch your message before it hits the ground.

Tell them a story they want to hear. Make it short and sweet, and watch the buzz build. Humans care about connection, companionship, success, their country, and distraction. They love simple solutions and glittering generalities.

“At the end of the day, you know what you know.”

Knowing that we’re all still human, building a core group of followers can be a walk in the park. Just make sure you have their attention when you throw your name out into the virtual hemisphere.

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.