Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Chicago Recap

It's Wednesday, and I returned from Chicago on Sunday. It's still hard to believe I was just up there, and what an incredible trip I had. The entire trip was just unforgettable. Here's a recap!

On Thursday I left for RDU around 8am, thanks to my sister who gave me a ride to the airport. She saved us lots of money on parking, for which I am very thankful. When I got to the check-in counter, I was told that my large suitcase (carrying my camera, lights and tripod) was about five pounds overweight. So, in front of everyone in line I had to find a way to ditch some weight. Eventually my bags were checked and I was on the way to the security check point. There's something both degrading and equalizing about going through security.

A few hours later, I arrived in Chicago. The flight wasn't full and was thankfully uneventful. I casually gathered my bags, reorganized them a bit, and began transitioning to being in the big city! Katie had sent me directions via Facebook, which I had on my Blackberry. So taking public transportation to their place was a breeze (although pulling 100+ pounds of equipment through the snow and ice was tough!). By the time I got to Clayton and Katie's place, I was winded and freezing! I'm sure I was a site to see in my pitifully light peacoat.

Clayton and I spent some time catching up and playing some Wii games, then he walked me down to a place called Potbelly Sandwich Works. We had lunch/dinner there and then walked over to Uncle Dan's to buy some winter clothes, per Clayton's recommendation (for which I am incredibly grateful). I bought a knee-length down coat there (like this one shown), which helped me survive the frigid weather throughout the weekend.

We went back to their place and caught up with Katie later that evening. With lots of great conversations about their adventure moving from Raleigh to Chicago, the ease of travel and excitement/anticipation of the interview the next day, Thursday was just wonderful.

We went to iO Chicago that night to see some friends perform on a team called The Lindbergh Babies 2.0. It was so great to be in the theater again, especially to see so many familiar faces! On the way home that night, I don't think I could have been more grateful for that coat I bought and the journey I was taking.

By habit, I woke up fairly early Friday morning. Katie had already left for work, so I quietly packed and left for the interview so I wouldn't wake up Clayton. My phone didn't change to the new time (Chicago's an hour ahead of Raleigh), so all morning I was incredibly nervous about making it to the interview on time.

Since I'd left too early to go straight to Dr. Hickey's (on purpose) I spent a few hours at a small table at a dessert store, reading and preparing for the interview. The people running the store were so friendly and funny. They gave me a hard time about carrying so much luggage, and sternly told me I should move to Chicago as soon as possible!

While there, I reread key passages from Dr. Hickey's books, reviewed my notes and questions, and contemplated how the afternoon would pan out. I like to take the time to be sure I'm of the right mindset before I get started, so that AM prep time was critical. However, the time quickly passed and I found myself out on the sidewalk again, heading to a spot where I could find a cab a little easier. Dr. Hickey's place was only about five miles away from my present location, but my weak little arms were about to give out!

While walking down the street, a chilling wind stirred and I adjusted my coat and scarf to keep warm. Looking up again, I nodded at a gentleman doing the very same as if to say, "Yeah, it's cold out here!" We made eye contact, and he smiled as he passed. Then a second after he had passed, I thought to myself, "I know that smile. How do I know him?" It then hit me that I had just nodded and smiled at Tim Meadows. He's now performing at iO, which was just a few blocks away from where we were. Quite ironic that I should pass him on the street, no?!

I immediately turned around to see if it was him, in sort of a double take fashion. But, it being so cold outside, everyone starts to look the same from behind. Nothing but coats with hoods walking along the sidewalk, unless you see someone coming towards you as I just had.

When I got down the block a bit, I stopped at a fairly busy intersection, and within a few minutes a cab beeped at me to see if I wanted a ride. One great thing about lugging that bag? Cabbies spot you quickly because they think you're heading to the airport! I gratefully handed over the bag to let him put it in the trunk and sort of fell into the back seat, stripping off the extra layers that had just brought me so much warmth in the cold wind. Out of breath, I gave him the address and we were quickly on our way to the downtown Chicago apartment.

We had an interesting conversation en route about religion and the differences between Christian and Muslim beliefs. The Pakistani driver told me he was studying the Qur'an, and even cited some of what he had memorized. He was trying to memorize the entire thing, despite not being fluent in Arabic. I patiently and curiously listened as we steadily cruised down Lake Shore Drive. When we came to a stoplight, he stopped speaking and must have read my thoughts because he excitedly said, "It sounds more like singing, doesn't it?"

The conversation lasted all the way to the door of the apartment building, and continued even as he unpacked the car. I think the only pause was when he struggled to lift the bag from the trunk! (I was glad to know he struggled a bit, purely because it made me feel less like a weakling.) I paid him, and scurried up to the lobby, pressing the button for Dr. Hickey's room.

A man answered, and upon telling him that I was there the door buzzed and I went up a few stairs to the elevator to meet him. The second the elevator doors opened, I spotted him there waiting at the door in front of me with a kind, warm smile.

He let me in, and we chatted as I unpacked the film equipment. We spotted a corner of the room to use as a backdrop, and he kindly let me rearrange his living room to set up two chairs, two lights and the camera. He asked about the others we had interviewed, and what I had learned along the way.

I told him about Mike Benge, Greg Stock and Roger Donlon. I probably sounded like a groupie confessing how much I had enjoyed reading his books. Now that I think about it, I have been incredibly lucky to speak with so many published authors. So many of the people we have interviewed have written accounts of their adventures and what they have learned. Dr. Hickey is an anthropologist who has published his findings on the Montagnards, and the two books I have read are so eloquent and informative. Everyone with whom I have spoken on this subject identifies him as the expert I need to know. Because of the work Surry has done, people have been willing to speak with me. It is clear that the respect they have for him washes over on to me, which is much like an unexpected embrace.

It ocurred to me on Friday, as I knelt to plug in the lights and listened to Dr. Hickey sitting behind me, that some authors have a strong voice in print but not in real life. Dr. Hickey is the rare type of author who speaks as well as he writes. And when he speaks, you delight in hearing what wisdom he will impart upon you. Like so many of these experts, he kindly corrects me when I make a statement that could be misinterpreted! I feel so thankful to be surrounded by experts dedicated to making sure that what we share is factual.

The interview was just wonderful. Dr. Hickey was very hospitable, and even offered to serve me tea after the interview concluded. We sat and talked even more about the state of our nation, about all the talk of change and whether or not it will actually happen, and how many folks might be too focused on the economy to care about the war in Iraq, much less what's happening today in Vietnam. He understands the reality of asking DC to change. He's tried it for years, as have all of these others with whom I've spoken.

While I know this reality well, I find that the eternal optimist in me is defiant and difficult to quiet. In the past year, I have studied social media and I have heard people like Jim Tobin tell us that social media gives a voice to everyone. While I'm certainly not the social media expert like Tobin, I do know that this feels like a new era, where big companies can no longer ignore the individual. A time where the government absolutely must listen to each citizen who speaks up. A time where we--as a nation--can once again converse and move as a group. We're not just individuals, we can move together as one tribe like we did in the beginning. It is fascinating to me!

Dr. Hickey and I wrapped up our conversation, and then I began to pack up the equipment. He complimented my skills at fitting so much into one small bag. "It's a gift my grandfather gave me before he passed away," I told him. We then chatted about how so many people in my family served in WWII, a conversation that led to genealogy. He has been researching his family history, and told me that they had been in Chicago for quite some time. Once again, I was so thankful for my grandmother's hard work in discovering and recording our family history. It has become so much of who I am, knowing my family history.

Dr. Hickey helped me hail a cab, and before I knew it he was wishing me luck and I was on my way back to Clayton and Katie's apartment.

That evening we went out to dinner, and then went to see some more improv at the American Theater Company. We watched two teams perform that night, one of which was Pudding Thank You. Pictures I took are here if you wish to see them! The team consists of Jorin Garguilo, Louis Saunders, Adal Rifai, and Ryan Patrick Dolan.

Jorin is an old ComedyWorx player, who has worked hard to help bring Chicago folks to North Carolina. Because of Jorin's help in setting up an annual improv invitational here in Raleigh, I recognized so many familiar faces while I was in Chicago. I'm incredibly grateful for what he's done to strengthen the community. It's a great feeling to recognize so many faces when I visit, and I know that is because of him. Plus, he's a fun, generous improviser to watch, too. Jorin and Adal recently played with my team Temporary Tag, and it was an unforgettable night--they both are incredibly talented performers. (Hope they don't mind the shout out!)

More on the past weekend to come soon! I still have to tell you about Saturday and Sunday, and already I have rambled on long enough for one post. Stay tuned...

Monday, December 8, 2008

Weekend Recap is Coming

Last night I returned from Chicago. My sister and brother-in-law picked me up at RDU, and dropped me off at home. My little pup was there waiting for me, too!

I've spent today resting up, not realizing how completely exhausted I really was from such an incredible weekend. Fearing a relapse of any illness (having had mono over the summer/fall), I'm much more conscious of not going faster than I can physically handle. Not only was I not used to the weather, I wasn't used to carrying 100+ pounds of filmming equipment through the snow! Quite a task to do by yourself, but today I recognized that my arms are much stronger than they were last week. Reminds me of all the boot camp training I've been reading about: struggling while carrying more than one can imagine, and then one day realizing how strong you have become as a result. Not to mention how tied to that equipment you are; knowing you rely on it, protect it and keep it working well. That equipment becomes an extension of yourself in a way.

For four days, I've been in filmmaker mode. Playing the film in my head repeatedly, obsessing over getting the materials I must have to tell the story well, mapping out the post-production schedule to get everything completed, and curious about whether I'll be able to meet my self-imposed deadlines. Yes, it is tough to compartmentalize or quiet those thoughts in order to return to work. And I love my full time job, so I can only imagine how much more difficult it would be if I only had a position that paid the bills instead of one that speaks to my passion as this one does.

I'm very happy that I gave myself a day to rest before going back to work so that I can go in tomorrow with a clear mind. It's tough to switch your state of mind from filmmaker to full time employee, but now that I am back home and readjusted I think I can go in tomorrow ready to work. Hopefully soon I can write a more complete summary of the past few days, so that I'll have them documented.

As I told Surry, I've had to pinch myself lately because this feels too much like a dream. How is it possible that I have been lucky enough to work on a project like this one, meet the fine people that I have been introduced to, and sit down to tea with a man like Dr. Hickey to discuss the state of our nation and politics. I have grown fond of this position, one in which I am allowed access to great minds, respected leaders, and real heroes.