A Mini-Trip

I’m writing from a brown leather couch in the middle of America.

[Thanks to Southwest Airlines and my incredibly delayed flight back in February, I booked my current trip for a grand total of $99. Who says travel has to cost an arm and a leg? If you’re willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of future reward, it is totally doable.]

Haven’t taken a single picture yet, and that’s likely to remain unchanged…unless my friend takes a couple. I didn’t bring a camera (shame on me), but I did bring a stack of good books (Tim Keller’s Reason for God, Anne Sexton’s poetry [yes, still plugging away/reveling], and a novel called The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake). I read on the plane ride, but there is too much to do here to really sit down and devote myself to a book.


Here’s a late-addition from my walk around the museum.

So how am I writing right now, you ask? Because my friends are still sleeping. I woke up early to cars and trucks out the window, the sound of sidewalk sweeping, the smell of already-hot-sun-on-brick. It’s 86 degrees here in Chicago, and, while I am proud of my friends for their economy-savvy, I now realize the beauty of air conditioning. It’s good training, though, for when I get my own place; judging from my past budgeting choices, things like air conditioning won’t make the cut.

Little apartments are perhaps the best thing ever. I walked in and immediately felt at home. Wood floors, large kitchen, open windows lining the street. Books and books everywhere because M. was an English major, and we English majors feel the need to remind everyone by the stacks that line our walls. It’s fun to see how people grow up – I’ve know L. since 8th grade when we sang in choir together. Now, I get to see her new life, her adventure into adulthood. The brief trips she’s taken to come back home cannot show you a person’s new life, really.

[They love coffee here, so when I woke up I made a pot of dark roast, and breakfast consisted of a nice mug of that along with a Trader Joe’s wheat-free muffin (good? yes. thick? yes. tough? a little.).]

Today consists of a trip to the Bean. Don’t even know what this is, but everyone back home was like “See the bean,” and even here, my friends, the anti-tourists, claim that yes, it should be seen. Then a delicious solo-trip to the art museum while L. works at the theater for the afternoon. I can’t tell you how excited I am for that. This whole three-day excursion is smelling remarkably like Austria, and I can thank my experience there for allowing me to navigate this new city with less angst than I’ve ever traveled before.


And proof of the trip to the Bean.

[Notes from The Student, Part 2]

Can I just say, I have a new-found respect for Education Majors?

And teachers.

And anyone who is good at planning, being creative, organizing, and then ACTUALLY EXECUTING SAID PLAN.


I just finished my second lesson plan (this one was for a listening lesson), and tomorrow is my first day teaching an ESL class. We’ll see how it goes. I tend to get sidetracked by their interesting stories.

For example:

Today, I “acted” as an ESL student because there was only one tried-and-true one (a Russian man, seemingly in his 70s or 80s, not sure…). So I got the privilege of discussing questions with him, answering multiple choice and true/false questions, and trying (overall) to be engaging.

But the thing is, I started talking to him, and I found out he used to fly planes in Russia.

He was a doctor on a helicopter that flew down to help people IN THE TUNDRA. Yes. The tundra.

I felt a little bit like I’d wandered into a novel.

I asked how long he’d worked there. Fourteen years, he said.

Then I asked if he liked it, and he smiled and just said, it was my job, and I was reminded, again that

we do what we are supposed to do

we do our jobs

we do the right thing

and we don’t always have to like it.

There is so much I could learn from this Russian man.



[P.S. Power-outage in the city today. For blocks. Everyone freaked. Restaurants wouldn’t take cards; people didn’t know what to do with themselves. I was secretly in awe. There’s something I love about remembering that we depend on things, that there are some things out of our control. Like when a huge snowstorm stops life. It’s beautiful, kind of, to remember that we’re finite.]



[Notes from The Student, part 1]

So it’s become pretty clear that I do not like instructions. You’d think that someone who likes to do something perfectly the first time would thrive off direction, but that doesn’t seem to be true.

For instance, this past week — five days of two, three-hour classes — has been filled with VERY PARTICULAR INSTRUCTIONS. On everything. I wrote my first lesson plan (I almost said my first ever lesson plan, but that’s not true: I wrote some short, Catherine-suitable plans for vocal pedagogy in college), and I couldn’t believe how long it took.


I have to write down what I’m going to say?

Shouldn’t I already know what I’m going to say?

I felt like I was in elementary school, just learning how to write cursive and hating the extra curlicues and exactness.

I did it, though. I wrote out a five-page lesson plan, complete with about 15 glorious colored pictures and even a graph (thank goodness for little brothers who, with only minimal eye-rolling, show me how to insert cool stuff into documents).

I wrote it, freaked out because I have a huge and horrible tendency to lose my brain under stress and forget everything, and made a thousand copies so I could teach my first lesson to ESL students.

Real ones.

I rushed into class, ready, excited, nervous. Felt like I was about to sing an aria that I’d been singing all semester, but I was still scared of that run towards the end.

I rushed in, but the class was empty.

Somehow, there’d been a mix-up in administration, and the 7 or so elderly Russian immigrants didn’t know to come.

We waited a good fifteen minutes. Unlike my fellow students, I wanted the ESL students to come. Desperately. I LOVE adrenaline, and I perform best when I have a ton of it nearly shaking my knees out of joint.

But no one came. I had freaked and worried about being the worst teacher in my class and panicked over the copier for no reason.

Now my first lesson is this coming Wednesday.

The story of my life.

Intensity intensity INTENSITY

until the bubble bursts.

Riding the Train

(So I started my TEFL class. More on that in another post.)

I stood up on the T today – it’s easier, really, to stand. I feel too small, too vulnerable, when I sit. Today I stood and held on to the rail, swaying a little with each stop.

I looked around and thought how strange it is to be in such close proximity with people I don’t know, people I will never actually meet. I will never meet them, but I could reach right out and touch them.

At the third stop, people poured in.

A man came and stood next to me, reached up and held onto the same railing.

His fingers grazed mine.

I never saw his face.

This isn’t the train I rode, but I kinda wish it were.

Cities and trains, subways and busy sidewalks. I don’t really understand that there is humanity all around me. Each person is as important as the other, but I will never know the stories.

I heard two people meeting for the first time; the girl had a cello on her back, and the middle-aged man claimed that he “used to be a professional cellist.” Before the next stop, the girl had invited him to a concert (“Are you free at 8:15 tonight?”), and it left me wondering if that’s how big stories start:

With a question that you almost didn’t ask.

. . .

I wonder if I’m the only one who’s watching. Maybe I’m the only one who wonders why the woman with shoulder-length gray hair, thick white nylons, and a knee-length purple skirt still takes the train. Still commutes in and out of the city. Still looks exhausted in the crusty blue train seats.

When I look at her, she turns and looks out the window, and I wonder who she’s going home to.

Too many thoughts for a train ride.

That’s the thing about the train: I come home quieter and more contemplative than when I left. I guess I lose my bubbly, excited self in the city.