When you realize a thread that connects your entire life has frayed

I enjoy list making.

Lists are double neat; neat like “Cool!” and neat like “Clean!” They’re easy to ingest. Their conciseness and lack of fluff fits our inability to consume depth anymore. They’re shareable. They’re fun to checkmark and cross off. They’re easy to add to and remove from. You can nest and sub-nest and if you’ve had a bit of wine, sub sub-nest. They provide clarity, a-ha’s, and direction. They can be superfluous and ridiculous, they can be deep and life changing. You can be restrictively creative — sometimes it’s nice to just have a smidgen of leeway — via style and bullet choices. (Though proceed with caution. One of Best Friend and I’s biggest fights was the first time we outlined collaboratively; turns out there is a right and wrong way to create an outline. Never again.)

One of the most frequent requests I get is “Can you share your ______ list?”

A la

  • Service Provider Referrals
  • Productivity Tool Recommendations
  • Coffeehouse Recommendations
  • Pet Peeves
  • Life of Yes Resources
  • Housing Criteria
  • Boyfriend Criteria

When cruising some of my bulleted brain management tools and manifestations recently, I noticed a constant recurrence though the topic spectrum stretched far and wide — “musicals”.

Lists of mine that include “musicals”

The lists below continue beyond what’s shared but I’ll stop on each once we get to “musicals”.

What did you you do when your parents weren’t home?

  • Flirt with boys in AOL chat rooms
  • Meet an MLM woman in your apartment vestibule whose number you ripped from a flyer at the Dempster Street El and give her money for pills that’d make you skinny
  • Dance to musicals in front of the full-length mirror with a wooden spoon microphone

How I write best

  • In the morning
  • In coffeehouses
  • Natural light
  • Window through which to stare, rest my eyes, and daydream
  • Only my writing app visible — no email, no Facebook, no To Do List — and full screen mode is best

Audio

One of these scenarios

  • Background noise — coffeehouse sounds ideal   
  • Song on repeat
  • Musicals

Moments and sources of pride

  • Getting selected to the Allstar Team at Northwestern Basketball Camp (though it had less to do with skill and everything to do with being the oldest and tallest, and tallest by a lot)
  • Being selected as a Resident Assistant
  • My TEDx talk
  • Turning getting fired into Mac & Cheese
  • The number of friendships, jobs, clients, marriages, babies, smiles, and leaps of others that I’ve had a hand in over the years
  • Hearing my name called as the recipient of Boston College’s MLK scholarship which paid for 75% of senior year tuition
  • People believing in me enough to support a truly “You wanna do what?!?” idea
  • Connect Four prowess — I was undefeated in this game in elementary school. While I’ve lost since then, it’s a very, very rare occurrence. Best Friend, who beats me in everything, does not beat me in Connect Four. And thus refuses to play me anymore.
  • Musical Game” prowess — to my knowledge, this is a game my family created. One person sings a line from a musical, the next person responds with a line from a musical with the parameter being it must be a different song and the song must not have already been sung, and you go around one by one until someone is unable to sing in a reasonable amount of time. Then they’re out and you keep going last person standing style. I know, right?! FUN. Much strategy — Do you go obscure or commoner? Do you spit back a song from the same musical or do you go rogue? Do you stay within the Andrew Lloyd Webber category or do you Gilbert & Sullivan the place up? DECISIONS. Well let’s just say, I’m pretty good at winning.

What I surrounded myself with as a kid to make me feel more normal and less alone

  • Sweet Valley High and Babysitter Club books
  • A made up family, the Forsythes, for which I had lists of demographic data (age, name, occupation, personality traits, type of car, address) and drawings, mostly of the interior of their home. “Kelly” was my age; she was pretty, well-liked, and confident.
  • A palm-sized turquoise notebook with a pink flamingo on its cover and on each page, the name of a classmate. Every time one of them did something nice or something mean, I’d mark their page/notate –
    • “Jessica: let me borrow her highlighter”
    • “Sara: saw me at The Limited, said hi”
    • “Brad: said I look fat in my new skirt”
    • “Brooke: asked if I showered”
  • Musicals

Things people don’t know about me

  • I’ve never met my father
  • When Best Friend and I met, he was looking at moving back to Nashville and I was looking into moving to London
  • I wrote a letter to Brian Austin Green, letting him know that it was ok he wasn’t as popular as Jason Priestly or Luke Perry, that I liked him.
  • I asked a Northwestern senior whom I worked with at the bookstore to prom, hyperventilating my inquiry on ETHS’ Community Service Office’s phone during my lunch period. He awkwardly said no. I refused to make eye contact with him ever again.
  • Jobs I’ve held —
    • Evanston families, Babysitter (high school; Evanston, IL)
    • Richard Shay Photography, Assistant (aunt and uncle’s photography business, high school; Highland Park, IL)
    • Student Book Exchange, Cashier (SBX) (summer before college; Evanston, IL)
    • Boston College Bookstore, Stocker (freshman year; Chestnut Hill, MA)
    • Some horrible corporate office, Temp (summer between freshman year and sophomore year until I got the below job; some ridiculously far suburb I can’t remember to which I had to take a train and two buses, IL)
    • Crown Books, Cashier (summer between freshman year and sophomore year; Evanston, IL)
    • Boston College Bookstore, Stocker (sophomore year; Chestnut Hill, MA)
    • White Mountain Ice Cream and Teen Voices Magazine, Server and Intern (summer between sophomore year and junior year; Chestnut Hill, MA and Boston, MA)
    • Boston College Housing, Resident Assistant (junior year; Chestnut Hill, MA)
    • Camp Wing, Counselor (summer between junior year and senior year; Duxbury, MA)
    • Mix 98.5 Radio Station, Marketing Intern (senior year; Brighton, MA)
    • Cafe Express, Barista (three months after graduation; Evanston, IL)
    • Reading in Motion, Program Manager (first three years out of college; Chicago, IL)
    • Chicago Video Project, Associate Producer (fourth year out of college; Chicago, IL)
    • Mac & Cheese Productions℠, Owner (since five years out of college; Chicago, IL)
  • In elementary school, I wanted to be a fireman. In middle school, an interior designer. In high school, the confluence of falling into a new interest and a horrific Chicago event changed my answer to “journalist,” specifically a Tribune columnist reporting on societal issues a la Mike Royko and Clarence Page.
    • In order to be a member of the National Honor Society, I needed ten hours of community service. Looking over the options, doing arts and crafts with children most appealed, which is how I found myself taking a forty-minute school bus ride every Wednesday from suburban Evanston down to the notorious 1992 Cabrini Green. Far from what it is today. I quickly accrued the necessary hours yet kept returning; the kids were adorable, I discovered my natural ability to interact with them and the other volunteers, and I became fascinated by public housing, choosing to do my senior project and all pleasure reading on the topic. In 1994, a 10- and 11-year old boy dangled and eventually dropped 5-year old Eric Morse fourteen stories to his death in the Ida B. Wells Chicago Housing Authority development, allegedly because he and his 8-year-old brother, Derrick, who unsuccessfully grasped for Eric’s hands, refused to steal candy for them. Jessie Rankins and Tykeece Johnson became Illinois’ youngest inmates. Eric’s death stuck with me and greatly impacted many choices I made from then on.
  • I used to be a huge sports fan. Like go to the store to get the newspaper, just for the sports section, which I would read from front to back and then cut out applicable stories for my scrapbooks. Yes, plural. Like listen to 670 The Score and ESPN1000 all day every day. Like write letters to sportscasters suggesting that maybe they should be more sensitive to people who couldn’t afford Bulls tickets and stop complaining about petty issues. My heyday was the late 80s to the mid 90s. If you’re ever heading out to Trivia Night where questions may be “What team was David Robinson on and what was his nickname?” or “Where did Christian Laettner go to college?”, I’m your girl.
  • I was a studio art major for a week. I graduated with a BA in English & Sociology.
  • I was supposed to move to Kingston, Jamaica after graduation to teach English at a boys Jesuit high school but right before I was supposed to leave, the program was cancelled due to violence. Not in a regretful way but I do often wonder, “What if?” What if I had lived in Jamaica for that year after graduation?
  • Many in my life know about my love affair with RENT. Many don’t realize that I’ve been attending and listening to musicals since toddlerhood. I was lucky to grow up near Northwestern University, which boasts one of the top theater schools. From the huge annual Spring production in Cahn Auditorium to the more frequent offerings in the smaller Barber and Louis theaters, I was introduced to most musicals as a pseudo Wildcat. Additionally, there were the trips to Gilson Park’s outdoor amphitheater and in the opposite direction, to the Loop’s theater district. My family would prep for our outings by listening to the musical on the record player or via cassette for the weeks leading up. I knew where exactly to drop the needle if I wanted to hear a song again. One of my most cherished gifts were Gilbert & Sullivan cassettes. We’d recognize actors — “Ohhh, he was in Fiddler last year!” “Isn’t that Poohbah playing Mr. Warbucks?!” Many times I’d feel that an actor, especially during heart-tugging songs, was staring specifically at me, communicating with me. We’d hang out in the lobby post-show so I could meet the cast. I had “Che” from Evita sign my hand once and proudly talked about “this new guy” while displaying said hand at school the following Monday. We’d bring home the programs and Mom would manilla folder them away in her filing cabinet.

Life of Yes Ingredients: what brings me joy

  • 10AM Tuesday Trader Joe’s, yoga, post office
  • weekday afternoon naps
  • a racially diverse group of people using a skatepark
  • the Whole Foods hot bar on someone else’s dime
  • parties where we sit on couches, drink responsibly, and background music is played at appropriate background music volume
  • neighborhood walkability
  • my mechanic, dentist, hair salon, nail salon, optometrist, and doctor are all within a seven minute bike ride of my home
  • flip-flops
  • compliments on my writing
  • compliments on my music selection
  • only time I use an alarm is when I have an early flight to somewhere fun
  • a husband who makes me feel loved even when I feel unlovable
  • being in Group A/1-3 when boarding a plane
  • showing up to the bus stop right when as it pulls up
  • guacamole
  • side streets
  • protected bike lanes
  • outdoor white light strands
  • bacon-wrapped _________
  • passive income
  • puppies
  • clearance rack treasures
  • more than needed closet and cupboard space
  • the commute from my bedroom to my home office
  • grandparents babysitting grandchildren
  • volunteering to get bumped off a flight for at least $700
  • not having anything in my closet that requires dry cleaning
  • travel hacked First Class, airport lounges, and five star hotels
  • diversified revenue streams
  • buy one get one free sales
  • musicals — being able to listen to musical songs on repeat at work and not worry about annoying coworkers or wearing headphones, being able to stand in line for rush tickets, being able to take advantage of weekday matinée prices

So I like, and have liked, Broadway. If you were to ask Best Friend to describe my family, he’d probably answer “Games, olives, and musicals.”

I got to wondering why I like this genre of theater. Especially since so many are ferocious haters. Seth Godin’s escapism quote came to mind — “Instead of wondering when our next vacation is we should set up a life we don’t need to escape from.” (Another musing for another day, speaking of haters, many of y’all hate this quote. I’m not sure where I stand, I find myself nodding to both sides. But regardless, he’s what bubbled up.) It was the “escape” that stuck and rattled around.

Growing up, musicals were definitely that. A way for me to escape being fat and smelly and poor and biracial and tall and sad. Where I literally could be in the dark, unseen and hidden thus safe, yet also alive, perched on the edge of my red velvet seat.

Now, musicals aren’t about escapism, they’re about deep in the bones sensations. Beyond the joy of pure entertainment, there’s the passion and the hope. They’re about my goosebumps. The collective laughing, crying, and cheering amongst strangers. I mean, if you don’t tear up and immediately want to run out to make the world a better place after Les Miz’s One More Day or Ragtime’s Make Them Hear You, you are a heartless monster.

Musicals are also about me being starry-eyed when it comes to skills I don’t possess. Like when a pianist stops playing the piano and begins “messing around”, beautifully, on the violin. Or when a musician meets another musician and they start jamming with one another like they’re been doing so for years. Or a person’s ability to sing, dance, or act; to see those done well, utter awe and admiration.

Superpowers I don’t have with which I’m enamored

Enamored in a “Sooooo cool!” way, less in a “I want to learn!” way; magical pill that’d give me these skills, YES. Take a class or watch a YouTube video or invest any resources? Eh. This is not one of those “It’s never too late to XYZ, old chap!” scenarios. I greatly admire but have no interest in investing/learning.

  • Handyperson/contractor/HGTV skills
  • Musical instrument, especially guitar and fiddle, skills
  • Math, especially of the fast, in your head variety, skills
  • Cooking without a recipe skills
  • Cooking for a group, especially in a friendly manner, skills
  • Car repair skills
  • Bike repair skills
  • Broadway skills

I may have watched this over and over and over. And over. I mean, when they start harmonizing and lifting each other up and playing off one another, coupled with their facial expressions, lyric mouthing when they’re not singing, and pure childlike joy, is there anything better? Complete “I love youuuuu!” eyes for Audra McDonald on that last note.

I no longer wooden spoon in front of a mirror. Honestly, that’s not enough anymore. I’ve been in the spotlight and on the receiving end of standing ovations, and you know what? That’s a pretty frickin’ cool place to be and what gets me excited and salivating and pushing myself. An audience of one, though safe, no longer makes me feel alive. An audience of 700, though scary, makes me 110% in every way possible.

All of this is me saying: More musicals in my life, please! Specifically of the “me in them” variety.

So with that, an announcement: Fear Experiment (FE) is back.

“Back like forever back?” I dunno.

“Back and the same as before?” Nope.

“Back and similar to before?” Yep.

“What about all my other questions, like when, what art forms, can I apply, when is the show, and just how is musicals tied to FE’s return?!” Head to the FE webpage for details and the application.

While .03% of me is already “What have I got myself into?!” what with, not exaggerating, 257 new tasks added to my To Do List and still so many more to add, the rest of me is giddy and over the moon excited for what’s to come, both expected and unexpected. Cause that’s one of the best things about FE — it’s a proven melting pot of feel goods that’s been done over and over yet is never the same, is always evolving, and every occurrence adds magic to my life.

Why should Broadway talent be required to be a Broadway star? To fast-tracking our no skill selves to deep camaraderie, unconditional support, and standing ovations. Forty year old Saya would love to perform A Little Fall of Rain just as twelve year old Saya did, though this time it won’t be in hopes that her yet to exist boyfriend will hear and come running to save her; it will be for pure and simple joy. In?

If you’d like to see more of my lists, head to the Mac & Cheese List Page and to the FAQ Page.