Curtis Bought a Motorcycle

My mom always said that if you look around to the emergency room, you can always tell who’s hurting the most—they’re the people who aren’t screaming. They’re just sitting there, pale and silent.

This doesn’t only hold true for physical ailment. Emotional pain can be just as stunting and silencing. It can takes weeks, months, years to process through a few seconds.

In the beginning of summer 2017, Curtis (he’s very wonderful) bought a motorcycle. Black, shiny, and very heavy, it checked in somewhere around 1200 ccs (for all the not-biker people out there, that just means when you give it some gas, it jumps forward real quick). We drove four hours south through Indiana to pick it up. On the way there I almost hit a dog that ran barking into the street.

The couple was older, selling the bike because their college aged son wanted a different model. They signed over the title and Curtis tucked it into our car, the proudest man alive.


A mile away from the house, we pulled into the parking lot of an abandoned building and he rode it up and down the country road, grinning. Then I road it up and down the country road—though I grinned less and bit my lip more.

We couldn’t bring it back to Chicago because we had nowhere to park it and learning how to ride a motorcycle in the city didn’t seem safe. So we parked it at a friends house in the country, an hour away from our tiny Chicago home.

Three weeks later we woke up early on a Saturday and headed out to the country, him to ride his bike, me to visit my friends. After visiting, I went to the store, then went back to their house and sat on the front porch in the sun, listening to the wind in the tops of the trees and the sounds of regular life: tractors, the occasional passing car, birds giving their two cents. Curtis was due back in 15 minutes.

Fifteen minutes came and went. And then my phone rang.

“I’m on my way to the hospital. You’re going to have to come pick me up.”

The birds were still singing, the sun shining, a machine humming along in the distance, but in my mind I saw a bloody, mangled person who I cherish. I walked off the front porch and over to my car, got in it, and started driving. Till death do us part.

I called my best girlfriend on the phone and said, “I have to drive for half an hour and you need to talk to me about anything.” Roads that I’d taken for 11 years looked the same, but I didn’t really see them. Instead, I was seeing bruises, broken bones, and burns all over the body of someone I love. In sickness and in health.

Pulling into the parking lot of a tiny hospital in the middle of nowheresville, Indiana, I looked down at my hands and realized they were shaking. I stood from the car, realized my hands weren’t the only thing shaking, and unsteadily made my way towards the big sliding glass doors. Each step took me towards what I hoped would be the recognizable frame of the man I’d fallen in love with. For richer or for poorer.

The woman at the front desk looked at me with pity, and my voice came out an octave too high as I asked for Curtis Rider. She gestured at the large automatic doors, and I stepped in their direction. For better or for worse.

When the doors swung open and I stepped into the room-part of the hospital and looked around, a nurse came around the corner and asked who I was looking for. Again, I squeaked. Curtis Rider. He grinned. “You mean Curtis Walker?” His humor was wholly lost on me. To have and to hold from this day forward.

He led me to a curtained off room and pulled aside the blue drape. To be my wedded husband.

Covered in blood and burns, Curtis looked up at me apologetically from the bed. Bruised in pride and spirit, burnt in skin and flesh—and beautifully unbroken—he apologized. Again and again and again. He’d been blown off the road and tossed across the pavement into a ditch. A doctor driving behind him stopped, picked him up, and took him to the hospital, where they cleaned him, bandaged him, and made fun of his last name. We went to the police office to file a report, waited for an hour, then drove home in relative silence. I, Anneliese, take thee, Curtis.

I didn’t cry that day, or the next day—but I cried the day after that.

The Two Types of Writing

Everyone wants to read for two reasons: either they’re interested in the topic—cars, sports, or real estate—or they feel like the writer understands them and can offer them insight on their feelings (loneliness, marriage, or pain).

Writing for the first group of people is comparatively easy. You become an expert on something. You pour time and energy into studying and developing your knowledge on a subject, so you can constantly mine the wealth of information to teach valuable information. It’s a lot of mental exercise and it takes great determination, but it doesn’t require much heart.

It’s much harder to reach people through their feelings and relational experiences. To write about pain really, really well, you must live through pain. To understand how it feels to be lonely, you must have no friends.

Connecting on an emotional level requires experiencing emotions and learning how to communicate them. You have to engage your heart.

It’s hard. It’s draining. It’s scary to be vulnerable. The emotional labor of empathy is enduring and processing your own pain, then feeling it again for someone else. And that is not easy.

Sharing joy is wonderful—but sharing struggles is what brings people together and helps them grow.

If we can share struggles and together bring them to the One who experienced all pain for us, hard stuff still might not be any easier. Life might not get better overnight. But there is One who sees, Who has given His life for us—and He’s given us each other, to learn from and experience with.

And that is worthwhile.

The Satisfaction of . . . Well. You Know.

Most kids become shrewd entrepreneurs at a young age—I was no exception. I learned young that bargaining my way out of things seldom worked, but it didn’t hurt to see if I could get a reward for completing the assigned task.

Can you husk the corn for dinner?
Write a history paper about the pilgrims.
Will you go cut the grass?

Inevitably, my reply was something along the lines of, “What do I get if I do?” It’s humbling (and slightly mortifying) to admit my attitude of entitlement, even as a child. Thankfully, my wise mother was not easily susceptible to the old pull-the-wool-over-her-eyes-with-a-desperate-hungry-look trick. One time out of 50, she would grant me some incentive—which apparently gave me hope to keep asking—but the other 49 times, her answer to my, “What do I get if I do this?” was always the same.

The satisfaction of a job well done.

Young, ignorant, and more interested in material gain than building character, I didn’t usually appreciate that reply. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to understand the value of this perspective.

It’s very easy or do well on something when the reward is tangible. Every bride diets before her wedding, because she’s rewarded by fitting into her dress extra-nicely. Star athletes play well so they can sign multi-million dollar contracts. Ballerinas practice hard so they don’t trip and fall over during the performance when 2,000 people are watching.

But what about those things that no one sees? What if I’m committed to working hard on something for days and weeks and years and it never seems to matter and no one seems to notice? What’s in it for me when I do my best then?

The satisfaction of a job well done.

If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well whether you get rewarded or not. Recognition and incentive aren’t the only rewards. There’s also experience and character.

If it’s worth doing, it doesn’t matter who notices it’s good or even if it makes you rich. Maybe you’ll be the only one who notices and you’ll be broke till you die. But you’ll know that it was really good, and it’s better to die content with your work than chafing because you didn’t try.

And if it’s worth doing, you might as well do your best at it—because if you’re going to do it either way, why not make it great? Then maybe, just maybe, if you’re very lucky, someday someone might stumble across your painting or your book or your innovative plumbing methods, and you might strike it rich and famous.

But they probably won’t—and maybe that’s okay too. Because you’ll still have the satisfaction of . . . well. You know.

People Who Brave Chicago Snowstorms

Thursday night and all day Friday, a casual observer would’ve assumed Chicago was preparing for Y2K—alas, no such superstition proved true. It was just another snowstorm.

After 36 hours of spitting snow, take-your-breath-away wind, and thick cloud cover, the weather is back to normal: sunny and cold, with a few inches of snow on the ground, and clear, salty streets. I’m sure it’s come as a surprise to the thousands of people who spent Friday afternoon spending their paycheck on bottled water, canned food, and candles.

Because I’ve only cultivated enough good sense to keep from wandering alleys in the dark, of course when it shows the first thing I do is put on my warm clothes and go outside.

After spending a few hours outside every day, I’ve learned there are lots of different kinds of people who go out in Chicago winter.

My dog is tired: A man wearing mustard-yellow ski pants charged past me, wearing an adult golden retriever slung rather unceremoniously over his shoulders. The dog kept sniffing people’s faces, and when an old lady reacted in surprise at a wet nose inches from her own, the dog-carrying man grunted and said, “He’s just tired.”

My rain boots are impervious: Chicago natives (should) all know that in a heavy snow, it’s far better to wear rain boots than snow boots. The city dumps about 1 ton of salt every 60 minutes, so within an hour of the snow, everything that used to be covered in pretty white is gray slush. Countless people who do know the secret of rain boots in the snow charge through intersections with little regard for anyone else—or their own feet.

My marathon training can’t wait: If running in the city isn’t already dangerous enough for you (concrete + knees = hasty joint demise), try doing it when there’s packed snow and ice on a third of your route—but make sure you don’t care about your pants. Yesterday, a runner hurried across an intersection in front of me, stomping in every slushy puddle. His joggers were splattered with water from knees down, and his shoes were saturated.

My sidewalk is my passion: It’s easy to tell the difference between the people who take pride in cleaning their 64 square feet of sidewalk, and the people who just don’t care. We have one neighbor who always shovels and salts his walk by nine a.m., and another neighbor who waits until mid-afternoon to casually step out, test the slickness, and throw some salt on top of everything. If it doesn’t melt today, I know it’ll by gone by April.

My closet is empty: Because I’m wearing every single article of clothing I own. And I also can’t turn my neck more than eight degrees. But it sure is toasty up in here.

My man card needs more punches: Manliness—or maybe just desperation for cash—inspires dozens of brave delivery bikers to skid and slip along the soggy streets. It’s a whole new level of crazy. Reminiscent of second grade, most of them also drag their toes to stop.

My kids? What kids? Sometimes adults forget the thrill, awe, and wonder of the first snow, and only realize half-way down the block that their six-year-old and eight-year-old are throwing snowballs back at the corner. It’s a sorry thing to be upset about.

My feet are so stylish: There’s a lot of real estate for commentary on winter footwear. About half the people who venture into the weather choose fashion over function. Apparently it’s cool now to arrive at your final destination with frostbitten toes and sloshing shoes, instead of dry feet in ugly waterproof boots. Also, exposed ankle skin must be stylish too. Who doesn’t want red, itchy ankles for two hours after coming inside?

My home is not here: It’s easy to tell who’s not from around here for two reasons. 1) I have a not-black ski coat. 2) I stop to take pictures of buildings in nine degree weather.

My, this is nothing: This measly snowfall has nothing on the blizzard of ’12. Or ‘94. ‘92. ‘86. ‘81. Etc.

What a good weekend to be alive.

5 Ways to Survive a Job You Love

The complex challenge and delight of doing something you love for work is that you’re doing something you love . . . for work.

Firefighters don’t spend their off hours putting out blazes (unless spouse is not a great cook), and cashiers at walmart don’t go home and continue swiping items over the scanner (maybe just in their dreams).

After scribbling words and ideas for hours in a chair at a desk for a deadline and a client, writing for fun in my free time feels utterly unappealing. Crafting beauty no longer feels like a joy—it feels like responsibility, another item to check off a to-do list. But indulging the laziness and not writing introduces the creeping chill that if I don’t write, I’ll lose the ability. And that would be far worse than sitting down to write for an hour or two when I don’t feel like it.

There are plenty of variations to this.

• Maybe you do a job you don’t like and you’re struggling to get out of bed to go every morning
• Maybe you used to be passionate about your work but you’ve lost the spark
• Maybe you’re waiting for another opportunity or recognition and nothing has come along

It all begs the obvious question that has no obvious answer:

What in the world am I supposed to do now?

Though I have no really obvious pie-in-the-face answers, I have a few ideas.

1) Quit. Artists, don’t want to paint for salary? Trader Joe’s is always hiring—hawaiian shirts and hand lettered signs are just a two-weeks notice away. Or you could storm off and flip some tables, and they’re just a day away.

2) Persevere. When the going gets tough, that’s when it really matters to stick it out. There’s an uphill and a downhill to every mountain hike (unless you build a house at the top and never leave). It might just get easier if you don’t give up now.

3) Hold open hands. Remember that your job isn’t your life, and none of your personal value actually comes from working it. Don’t find your worth in client, coworker, or boss comments, or you’ll be riding the ever fluctuating roller coaster of compliments and criticisms and compliments and criticisms and compliments and criticisms and . . . Bonus tip: Ask your three-year-old if they care that you’re the CEO of your company, and odds are they’ll care a lot more that you’re their parent.

4) Nourish your passion. Reserve time and space to do what you love just for yourself, just because you love it. And if sometimes you end up spending all four hours staring at a blank canvas with a paintbrush in hand, don’t regret it. Just do it again next week. And if the same thing happens week after week, month after month, strongly consider 1).

5) Find a like-minded community. Even for the hermit-est introvert, there’s undeniable synergy in finding someone else who loves to do the exact same thing.

At the end of the day, there’s no hard and fast solution—you have to figure out what works for you. One word of hopeful advice: making a living is not worth losing your passion. There are other jobs in the world.

Bad Jonny: A Vignette

On the train last week I saw a young man sitting at the end of the aisle.

He looked to be in his mid-twenties, and his blue jeans, black jacket, and navy Nikes were nondescript. His red-blonde hair was long and slicked back, curling around his neck and the collar of his coat. He had five or six day old scruff, mostly covered by the bandaids and gauze on his nose and cheekbones.

In one of my stories . . .

“Jonny, someday you’re going to be someone great.” His mother turned from the sink full of dishes to look at her eight-year-old. What she saw was normal—he was laying on the kitchen table with his arms hanging off the edge and his head dangling over. He was swinging his arms and humming, only she knew he was listening because he sang when he wasn’t.

Ten years later, after his last high school orchestra concert—as first violin—he was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” by the graduating class of East Rivermouth High School.

Four years after that, he graduated from an esteemed university with his BFA in Violin Performance, and took an internship with the Seattle Symphony.

Three years later, he was living in a studio apartment above a Vietnamese restaurant on the north side of Chicago, working mornings at a diner and evenings as a security guard at Chicago museum.

Things had been promising at the Seattle Symphony, until the conductor’s granddaughter took an interest in Jonny. The conductor, zealously passionate for his granddaughter’s career (not her love interests), released Jonny with little explanation and less goodwill.

The professional violin industry is highly competitive, and when Jonny fell down the steps and broke his hand moving out of his Seattle apartment, it sealed his fate. Unwilling to tell his parents, he moved in with a cousin in Chicago, where he scraped together a living and developed a nasty temper. He didn't sing anymore. And his attempts to play the violin always ended with him slamming the case shut angrily.

His coworker at the museum, an elderly man who mumbled a lot and chewed tobacco when he thought no one was watching, took a vague interest in Jonny. Whenever he saw him coming, he muttered,

“Bad Jonny. You bad.” Jonny’d lost his temper once at work and slammed a glass on the floor—the old man helped him clean it up before anyone saw.

This morning, Jonny was at the diner when the Seattle Symphony conductor came in. Without thinking, Jonny swung a fist at the old man. Shocked but savvy, the old man swung right back, hitting Jonny’s nose which gave a loud crack.

Several punches and two minutes later, Jonny was on the street, out of a job and dejected.

That night, when he arrived at the museum with a bandaid covered face, the old man took one look at him and said,

“You bad, Jonny. You bad.”

Three Rules for Driving in Chicago Traffic

Most people are prompted to write because they have some terrible experience or because they have a burning message in their heart they need to share.

In my case, it’s a little of both.

On Saturday, Curtis (he’s very wonderful) and I drove into Chicago from the suburbs. Since it was rush hour, the drive that should have taken us one hour took us two.

By the end of the trip—though I’m neither prone to fits of rage, nor inclined to acts of anger—I was having a rather tortured experience. You know the feeling: when you sit for 20 minutes in a line of cars at a traffic signal and just when you’re about to go through, a speeding car cuts you off. It inspires some grim emotions.

What if, instead of looking out for their own gain in driving, people were thinking about each other?

Ground rules for driving in traffic and in general:

Be Smooth
Growing up, my sister gave me one ground rule for driving: imagine you’re balancing a glass of milk on your head, and drive accordingly. AKA, your grandma doesn’t want to get whiplash from the half-mile drive to the grocery store.

Be Shrewd
Think you can make the light, but you’re not quite sure and there’s a semi speeding toward the intersection? Practice critical thinking. For everyone except the man himself, driving is not a time to be padding the Evel Knievel section of your resume.

Be Courteous
If you’re letting cars in on purpose instead of trying to keep them out and waving your hand angrily when you get cut off, it pays in two ways. 1) You don’t get a rage ulcer from repeatedly not getting your way, and 2) good will begets good will. If everyone is being kind to the other drivers on the road, everyone will get receive positive benefits from it.

If every Chicago driver lived by these rules, we’d have fewer accidents, fewer heart attacks, and fewer gray hairs.

The Third Sunday of Advent: Joy

Gaudete Sunday—the Latin word Gaudete means rejoice.

Shout with joy and gladness,
let rejoicing fill the earth;
make songs reach to each abyss—
to proclaim the Infant’s birth.

Clang the bell,
sound the horn,
hear the knell
this early morn.

Cry hallelujah in your town,
dance to welcome baby-King;
men of old, of great renown
worship Him with gifts they bring.

Shepherds, worthy of not much,
race to town to see new Lad;
reaching stable with fervor such
they tell the city to be glad.

And always, angels, back to them,
shouting, each, To all good news,
a babe is born in Bethlehem!
He came as king for you to choose.

Rejoice, rejoice, now on this day,
the King is here, He’s come to stay.

Until the time when it is right,
when He wins battle, war, and fight.

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

Why You Should Love Doing Laundry

I looked up poems about doing laundry, but found mostly stream of consciousness rants from disenchanted housewives.

Being neither disenchanted, nor possessing an articulate stream of consciousness by this time of night, here instead is a list of all the reasons why you should love doing laundry.

Socks: If you wash your socks your feet won’t smell. That’s good, because if your feet smell, when you go bowling and trade in your shoes, it will ruin the taste of the pizza.

Jeans: Remember the day you called in sick to work but actually walked around New York City in the rain? At the next company picnic, your boss might be suspicious when he sees the mustard stains, muddy hems, and little white spot where you sat on bird scat without realizing it.

Undershirts: Every once in a while, when you’re lifting chili or saucy wings to your mouth, a little bit might spill around the neck of your white shirts. If you wear that under your collared shirt to a job interview, it will be distracting. So distracting that your chances of getting a job may be ruined.

Under-other-things: this is just a good idea for hygiene etc.

Dress shirts: Everyone knows the middle school boy look—crumpled shirt with sweat stains around the armpits. It shouts, “I found this under the bed where I kicked it last time I took it off.” You’re thinking, if it’s fine for them, it’s fine for me. Here’s how you should decide if that’s right: are you in middle school?

Dresses: Unwashed dresses have a certain limp look to them, a look that whispers, “Four wears ago I was clean. Now I smell like musty deodorant.” And if you wear musty deodorant on a first date, the effect will likely be somewhat underwhelming.

Skirts: Wrinkles and spots: 0, Looking professional: 1. The best way to get a promotion is to look like you deserve it.

Dress pants: Dress pants are notorious for collecting white powder-ish stuff, which the casual observer might mistake for dandruff, which would interfere with their ability to make eye contact with you.

Sweatshirts: It’s hard to make an every-wear wash case for sweatshirts—but when you notice your sweatshirt smells a little funny, and has sticky drips on the front from where you ate ice cream in the dark, coffee spots on the sleeves, and a little engine grease from when you changed the oil, it’s time to wash it.

T-shirts: See Undershirts and Dress Shirts.

Many of the reasons that pressure you to do laundry are social and societal—and maybe it’s nice for everyone else if you don’t smell funny and have strangely shaped stains on your clothing.

But what’s really nice is putting on clean socks, fresh-smelling jeans, and a crisply ironed dress shirt.

And that’s really why you should love doing laundry.