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Spotlight on Julie Vassilatos

by Tracey on April 21, 2014

Julie Vassilatos writes with a rhythm that feels, to me, almost poetic. We gave all of our cast free reign to write whatever they wanted for their spotlight pieces and she took the “What is the scariest thing you’ve ever done?” prompt and ran with it. I am SO glad she did!

by Julie Vassilatos

The scariest thing I’ve ever done lasted entirely too long.

For my PhD dissertation I got it into my head that I should go to Warsaw for a research trip. On this seven-week extravaganza of continuous fear, I learned much more about myself than my topic.

I learned that I cannot do math on the fly, finding myself unable to cope with a currency reform whereby 5 zeroes were being removed from every bill. When I needed to buy something, I would hold out a sweaty handful of bills and change, and let the vendor simply choose the proper amount of cash.

I learned not to heed guidebooks, which steered me wrong on just about every important issue. A great astonishment of Warsaw was the beautifully dressed women who carried off gorgeous colors, cuts, and fabrics with flair, and, I am positive, also shaved their legs. Nothing at all like the hairy-legged, brown-scratchy-wool-clad peasant I was led by the guidebooks to expect, and emulate, which I did easily and with pleasure since that is my own personal style. My host, an elderly woman, informed me too late that Warsaw is more fashionable than Paris. Bad guidebook.

The book also warned me never to eat dairy products (on account of encephalitis) or any fresh produce without cooking it (toxins in the soil). So when my host brought me shining, tiny fresh strawberries from her friend’s garden plot, I was aghast that she might actually expect me to eat them right then and there. They loomed larger and more menacing as the hours, and then days, passed. I fretted over what to do with them. Finally I boiled them. My host happened into the kitchen just as I dropped them into a bubbling pot. “I always prepare them this way! Mmmm!” I lied, knowing she knew I was lying. Fresh strawberries, boiled to limp perfection, served warm, and eaten with an unconvincing smile. I do not recommend this dish.

The guidebook also didn’t explain Polish pronunciation. So all those times I was politely attempting to say please, thank you, and a general polite greeting and parting (all the same word), by a minor vowel misspeak I was actually saying “piglet.”

Beyond the epic guidebook fails, everything else was just plain scary—at least to an anxiety-wracked phobic such as myself.

My main purpose in Warsaw was to use the resources of a university library to find, request, and translate passages from crispy antique tomes in Latin and late medieval Dutch. The librarians tried so hard to find a common language with me. Polish? Forget it. No Russian either. French, German, Italian? Nope, nope, nope. What, doesn’t anybody speak a dead language around here? I copied titles of texts, mutely handed slips of paper to the kindly librarians; they went and fetched. I stared at my volumes, marking down parts to copy, taking occasional notes, and hoping never to have to use the bathroom, make a phone call, or buy coffee—three things which posed, to me, a herculean challenge.

How can a toilet be difficult? How can it be scary? How? For starters, every single toilet was different. Some had buttons, some had strings, some had no discernable moving parts at all. Making an overseas phone call in a public place in that pre-cell-phone time was so traumatizing I wailed about it every day. My host rejoiced whenever her phone rang and it was “Mr. Peter,” whom she seemed to miss as much as I did. Buying anything saw me resort to the nod-shake head-shrug shoulders-wince eyebrows-half-weak-smile foreigner face while I held out those sweaty hands full of coins, hoping they wouldn’t take me too bad.

Riding the city buses was a little harrowing. The system was simple enough, and my travels were not long. But periodically a large man would board, grab some poor fool by the collar, haul him off the bus and commence to hitting him with a short club. The fact that my bus rides brought me to beautiful places almost made up for my concern that I might be the next poor fool on the bus.

And in all of this, I was alone, well and truly alone. For some weeks I found no one to speak English with. There was no facebook to keep in touch with pals. There was no friendly interaction with shopkeepers, the flower seller, the old man selling newspapers at the kiosk. There was only my daily quiet routine: walk to library, page through volumes, translate, go home.

And here is where the plain, routine scary morphed into—well, terror.

I’m the sort of social creature whose stability in the cosmos depends on all the small connections made in chitchat and coffee dates. All my life I’ve taken pains to stretch out a net woven of a thousand such interactions with my fellow humans in order not to plunge into the empty abyss I knew was below, a blank void where there is no other company but my own. I’m not talking about avoiding simple solitude. I’m taking about avoiding, at all costs, the confrontation with my own blank, stark, emptiness.

But in Poland that taut net disappeared in a puff of vapor, that finely-honed avoidance crumbled to dust. I tumbled down into the dark.

And there I was. Sitting down there in the bottom of the abyss. That place I’d sought consciously to avoid my whole adult life. It was dark, and echoey, and isolated. But when my eyes adjusted to the light, I also found out it was fine down there. No place I wanted to stay—but astonishingly, no place I needed to fear.

As the weeks unfolded and I rattled around down in my new hangout, slowly I found a few expat Americans, slowly I made friends with locals who spoke English. I traveled, I researched. I bought an ice cream cone—to hell with brain spores. I spent all my money without ever figuring out how to order a coffee. I came home with boxes and boxes of photocopies. Despite the great weight that I brought home with me I can say with assurance that I left Warsaw far lighter, having finally abandoned the burden of a pointless fear.

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Julie, this story fascinated me! Thank you for sharing it!

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll love the piece she is reading for the 2014 show. Tickets are available HERE.

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Sponsor Spotlight on ChicagonistaLive!

by Tracey on April 18, 2014

Our show would NOT be possible without the support of our local sponsors! We are especially excited when companies come back to LTYM for a second year; ChicagonistaLive! is one such repeat supporter.

ChicagonistaLive! is a locally owned and run website/webcast. Run by the amazingly talented MJ Tam and Beth Rosen, and co-hosted by Nancy Loo and Duong Sheahan, ChicagonistaLive encapsulates what both the Internet and Chicago are all about: innovation, entrepreneurialism, and community building.

ChicagonistaLIVE

ChicagonistaLive, the webcast, is always a surprise of topics! It is unique in that the focus is not finite, but rather, all-reaching across the many branches of media. ChicagonistaLive isn’t a traditional broadcast that has adapted to incorporate the new trends of social media; ChicagonistaLive was BORN FROM the newest trends. It is that perfect blend of traditional and social media that leaves the viewer feeling as though they are a part of the broadcast instead of a passive listener. I have watched these ladies interview celebrities (both local and international) from every field of expertise with a comfortable finesse that causes me to think they’re actually talking TO ME and not the camera. In fact, the producers are so keenly in touch with the world of social media that their shows have upwards of 4 million Twitter impressions in the hour of the show with a national audience that is highly engaged.

Though the focus is mainly Chicago-centric, at any given time, the ladies of ChicagonistaLive can be found all around the world, reporting from remote corners or atop famous architecture. In fact, there weren’t any webcasts in the month of April as two of the hostesses were spread across the globe; Beth Rosen in Europe with her son and MJ Tam in Asia on a fantastic media coverage of a national hotel chain.

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MJ went all over the continent! I was fascinated by her updates and photos and found myself considering new locations as “dream vacation” destinations. If you’re looking for information about a possible tour of Asia, I encourage you to follow her journey for recommendations.

Thankfully, ChicagonistaLive is making up for lost time by hosting 2 shows in May! You will find them broadcasting live at  2 pm on May 20th. (Additional webcasts will be announced on their site soon.) I can’t wait to see where they will broadcast from. Previous episodes have been broadcast from as high as the iconic John Hancock Building and Willis Tower all the way down to the tables of the infamous Harry Caray’s on Navy Pier and many more; you never know where they will turn up next!

With all that happens in Chicago in the Springtime, I am anxious to see what these powerful women will cover next.

If ever you miss their live broadcast, you can find the episodes on the ChicagonistaLive YouTube channel and website. On Chicagonista.com, all of the finest art, entertainment, restaurants, shops and services to be found in Chicago and the surrounding area are showcased for your ease. If you are a resident of Chicago, you will appreciate the extent of their reach as no corner of the city is left unresearched or unexplored. Visitors to Chicago; this is the real deal. 

Are you interested in any specific information about Chicago? Want to know about the best places to eat or new and exciting events that will available this summer? Check out ChicagonistaLive and subscribe to their email list, and follow them on Twitter or Facebook.

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Truly, no words are great enough to express our gratitude to ALL of our local sponsors! We try, but it’s never enough. Please show your support for the sponsors by browsing their sites, sharing their information, and supporting their stores!

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Special Donation Ticket Day!!

April 16, 2014

Last year, Melisa and I decided that we would do a one-day-increase of the amount of money we donated to our charity of choice. We liked it so much, and it felt so GOOD to do it, that we have decided to repeat the idea with the 2014 show! This means that for 12 hours, TODAY ONLY, if you purchase your tickets via the Ovationtix.com site, or by calling the box office, instead of 10%,  we will donate 20% of the ticket proceeds directly to RecoveryOnWater.org  (ROW)! If you purchase between the hours of 8 am and 8 pm, CST, you will receive not only a ticket to the most amazing show in Chicago, but $4 dollars will go directly towards a local charity that assists women in their recovery during and after treatment for breast cancer! Seriously, this is huge, folks! Spread the word on your social media sites, via the telephone […]

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Do You Believe In Magic?

April 15, 2014

Our second–and final!–rehearsal was on Saturday in the fantastic space loaned to us by our friends at 2nd Story, a Chicago-based “collective of story-makers and story-lovers working together to build community through the power of storytelling”. We met at their headquarters on Ravenswood in an renovated lighting factory with beautiful woodwork throughout (and even a reproduction of a Frank Lloyd Wright Garden Sprite in the entryway). The space felt…magical. We were thrilled to have Brandi of Balee Images with us once again, to capture our day. All photos here were taken by her. (Thank you, Brandi!!) Before starting our full run-through of the show, there was a little business to take care of and I do mean “little”, as in TINY. We took a few minutes to welcome the newest LTYM Chicago baby, “Macey Tralisa” (Not her real name), who was born only a week and a half before, into the family. After […]

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Spotlight on Paulette Delcourt

April 14, 2014

Paulette Delcourt is one of those people who has the rare ability to be genuinely kind-hearted AND extremely witty. It’s a combination that has made me snort-laugh while eating dinner TWICE now. by Paulette Delcourt The doula was AWOL. The doctor was late. The nurse told me to “just hold it”. That is how my first hour as a mother started: waiting on a baby who wanted to meet her parents so badly, she couldn’t wait for dumb stuff like a fully equipped medical staff. The baby who laid sideways, who kicked and jabbed me like a baby boxing kangaroo burst into the world 45 minutes after I was wheeled into a room. I was amazed at how what appeared to be a “normal” room became a state-of-the-art birthing center. Shiny instruments blinded me with their science. Blinky beep-y stuff popped out of faux-wood laminate closets, and a parade of hazmat-suited strangers left little room for my […]

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