nablopomo

Thankful: seatbelts and saddles.

On Wednesday, my alarm went off at 5:23 a.m., as it always does. I fought with myself for seven minutes until 5:30 a.m., as I always do. (Well, sometimes longer.)

Finally, I groaned and rolled myself out of bed, wriggled into a pair of pants and winced as the floorboards creaked under my feet. I took one last, longing look at my pillow and the boyfriend who would be asleep for at least another three hours, tiptoeing out with my heavy cycling shoes in hand.

My shoes make the most terrible noise, crunching and grinding against the pavement, during the half-block walk to the gym. If it were any farther away, I'd wear different shoes — but let's be honest: If it were any farther away, there's a pretty good chance I wouldn't even make it to class.

Around 5:55 a.m., the gym suddenly becomes a sunnier place. Brady Braden, my favorite Spinning instructor, glides in the front doors of the Lincoln Square Athletic Club, greets the employees like they're his favorite people in all the world, and begins preparing the studio for class.

He flips on the warm-up music, dims the lights, checks everyone's bikes, then does his best Mister Rogers, changing out of his baggy shorts and hooded sweatshirt into his jersey, shorts and cycling shoes. He wraps a bandana around his head and hops on the bike — class begins.

But not this past Wednesday. Brady was in a car accident earlier in the week, and if he hadn't been wearing his seatbelt, had his airbags not deployed, something much, much worse could have happened to him. He walked away after waving goodbye to his totaled SUV.

But he was sore enough that he didn't get up on the bike that day. Instead, he walked around, horrifying us with stories of average Thanksgiving calorie intakes, rattling off facts about cellulose powder in packaged foods, and just glowing with all the sadistic energy of a man who loves to see his students sweat and groan.

Brady, like my dear friend Doug who I miss very much, is a story repeater. My favorites are his anecdotes about owning his own bakery, BTrue: "Yeah, I'm a Spinning instructor who's also a pastry chef. I like to be complicated." He's said it so many times that I even know the inflections in his voice.

And I love it.

Sometimes I think he's making some of his factoids up on the spot. Sometimes I wonder how he can keep up his banter while the rest of us are panting and sweating on our bikes. Sometimes I wonder how one man can come up with such excruciatingly delightful workouts.

And I always wonder how he manages not only to get me up at 5:30 a.m. every week when I work from home and have no other reasons to be awake that early, but also to get me excited for a second class a day later. (And how he singlehandedly convinced me to sign up and train for a 200-mile charity bike ride in the middle of a Chicago summer.)

Never in my life have I counted down the hours and minutes to a workout class. Until now: I've been clockwatching since I got on the train after a particularly sinful lunch (it was for a meeting!), and I'm now 20 minutes out, racing to finish this post so I can suit up and head out.

 

So today, I am thankful for the seatbelt that kept my all-time favorite fitness instructor out of the hospital and the saddle I call mine: bike No. 9, right in the very front.

Thankful: play. (And a giveaway!)

Chicago Toy & Game Fair

(Heyyyy, if you're just in this for the free stuff, scroll down past my heartfelt story for the giveaway!)  

I'm thankful for a playful spirit, even as I creep toward 30 years old.

At my first-ever soup party last year, 40 people, many of whom were strangers, crammed into my one-bedroom apartment to sample the five soups I'd prepared in a crock-pot smorgasbord, sip wine and mingle. "Elf" played on loop, and the only casualty of the evening was a bowl of Chex Mix knocked over by a kid who was just too excited to play with Emaline.

As the crowd started to filter out, two smaller groups formed, one in the living room, one in the dining room. The living room group sat in a circle, beers in hand, and started passing out cards for Apples to Apples. The rest of us fumbled over the directions for a new game, LOGO, that we'd just torn the cellophane off of. (LOGO, for the record, is a terrible game.)

Back in Kansas City at Christmastime, my sister and I sat cross-legged on the family room floor with the Sorry! board, teaching our mother the rules of each card and ruthlessly knocking each other's little plastic men back to Start until one of us finally claimed victory.

Fast-forward to this summer, when I walked into the beer garden at Village Tap and sat down with my first of many Virtue Red Streak ciders — and five girls I'd never met before — to play a new game called Telestrations, a dry-erase-board cross between Pictionary and that obnoxious elementary-school telephone game you played where the kid at the end got embarrassed because the message they blurted out was nothing like what was said at the beginning.

I can't even draw a stick figure well. I am terrible at this game. But I lost my mind laughing with those complete strangers, which means I loved it. (We'll be swapping LOGO out for Telestrations at this year's soup party; I see no one objecting.)

 

…And a giveaway

That's also the night I met Mary Kay Russell, a wonderful lady who's encouraging me yet again to get in touch with my inner child. The 10th-annual Chicago Toy & Game Fair is this weekend, Nov. 17 and 18, and I'll be there bright and early Saturday morning for an early blogger preview (sponsored by Bananagrams — how often does anyone get to say that?!) of all the newest and awesome…est…games for the holiday season. Even as my arrested development continues, I know more and more people having kids, so I can't wait to be the cool single friend with the best presents this year.

Heck.

Great news: I've also got one family pass to give away for the weekend, which means you and your kiddos can get in gratis for Saturday and Sunday! Watch Saturday's yo-yo competition for free…meet board game inventors for free…hell, go to the Pony Royale Princess Party, if that's your thing.

Just leave a comment here with your favorite board-game memory, then post the following tweet to let people know you've entered:

I want to take my family to @ChiTAGFair, and @paigeworthy's making it happens! What's your favorite game? http://paigeworthy.com/?p=1899

 

Get your entry in by 5 p.m. CST on Thursday, Nov. 15 — I'll announce the winner on Twitter and notify you by e-mail that night. Good luck!

Thankful: Friday stream.

Those five minutes of my Friday, walking home from my friend Melissa's house after going weeks without seeing her, stuffed full of takeout pizza and underbaked chocolate-chip cookie, just tipsy enough on cheap Pinot Noir to notice…the sharp diagonal of Lincoln Avenue stretching ahead of me, bathed in orange fluorescent light, the restaurants beginning to empty as the bars start to fill up, like the two sides of an hourglass…lightly bundled in a scarf and puffer vest, knowing it'll be warm enough tomorrow to go without for probably the last time in months, hands shoved in my pockets, fighting for fleece-lined real estate with my iPhone and jangling keychain…humming along with Blossom Dearie as she waxes sweetly melancholic about the isle of Manhattan — which left behind, almost without looking back, five years ago — marveling at the fact that I can fall even more in love every day with this city, this man, this life and a future I can't even comprehend…

I'm thankful for that.

Thankful: Mario and the Brown Line.

I'm thankful for my train station. I can see the Brown Line from my living room, where I'm sitting right now. I watch trains roll in from both directions, their fluorescent interior lights orange-blue through the newly bare branches out my window, the warm glow of the heat lamps , the dwindling number of people waiting to go somewhere as it grows later.

I can even hear it from my bedroom, especially after a fresh snow, when it's the only sound that can cut through the silent white blanket.

There's a tiny Dunkin' Donuts in the lobby, by the farecard machines. The employees bustling around shoulder to shoulder there recognize me, not to the point where they know my drink, but enough that they give me a warm, knowing smile and understand how badly I must need that jolt when I amble in.

 

And then there's Mario: the real reason I'm thankful for my train station.

Mario is the guy in the orange and yellow safety vest with the broom and the dustpan, who sweeps the platforms and keeps the station neat. He's he guy who empties the trash. And he's the guy who makes my day every time I see him.

I've wanted to write about Mario for months.

He's Hispanic and easily a head shorter than me; he has a rough past, a firm handshake, eyes that sparkle when he talks and one of the loveliest spirits I've ever come into contact with.

 

I talk to strangers. It's a thing. If you make eye contact with me, there's a good chance I will start a conversation.

Mario made eye contact one day, and I actually let a downtown-bound train pass me by to hear more of his story. He was open and honest and looked me square in the eye as he told me about hitting rock bottom with a drug addiction and eventually cleaning up his act — all so he could help raise his nephews and be a man they could be proud of.

I can't imagine how much they must love him.

 

Mario always remembers my name. He can tell when I'm sick or sad; he knew immediately I'd met someone special when I came to the station grinning from ear to ear shortly after I started seeing Mark. He's met my sister; he's met Mark. I've taken the kittens through the station twice hoping to introduce him to them, too.

He's become this happy fixture in my Lincoln Square life, and I'm so thankful to have caught his eye that random day in my train station.

Thankful: Perspective.

When we were young, we knew everything. We were merely freshmen.

I'm thankful for perspective.

As I build my business, trying to do fulfilling work for a roster of clients whose businesses I care about and whose success I'm invested in, I often feel like I'm flying by the seat of my pants with every Skype call and coffee meeting, every new proposal I write.

It's not just me — I think it's something a lot of people feel, at least among my friends, like we're all just making it up as we go along.

 

I flew back to Kansas City a few weeks ago because I'd been invited to speak at the University of Kansas Journalism School's J-School Generations event, which brought alumni back during the week of Homecoming to meet with students and talk about their real-world experiences.

How I was selected to join these alumni is and will always be beyond me, but I'm never one to turn down an invitation to talk about myself — especially to an audience of impressionable youth.

That audience ended up being a lecture hall with 350 freshmen in stadium seating, wearing hoodies and dragging their feet as they turned in their writing assignments for the week. The class: Journalism 101, Media & Society. (How well I remember it! I started late, having abandoned a semester-long dream of being a family therapist and smacking my forehead when I flipped through the course catalog and realized I should have been focused on words all along.)

Bits of what the three of us alumni said during class would be on the exam, the professor said. The others, one who owns her own PR agency and another who works at Google, even taught me things, but I shudder to think any "words of wisdom" I shared could end up fodder for the final.

I said my piece on trade publishing (where I spent three years before fumbling and bumbling into my own business); I talked briefly about my serpentine career path. I cursed more than I should have. I laughed at my own jokes more than I should have, too — it's part of my charm (…?) — but for the most part, the students were laughing, too.

Then they started asking questions.

And I realized, somewhere between explaining exactly what I do to a student who wanted to do something similar and wanting to fall down crying when a girl in Uggs approached me after class just to say, "You're amazing"…

Shit. I'm the expert here.

Somewhere along the line, I had to create a LinkedIn profile from scratch, and it was all brand new to me. (Hell, in 2004, Facebook came to campus and all we did was poke each other. I never would have guessed I'd be getting paid to help businesses "engage" there eight years later.) And suddenly, I was standing there talking to hundreds of students with no idea what LinkedIn is (who grew up with Facebook and have so much more to learn), realizing I'm not making it up as I go along. I'm picking it up as I go along.

I didn't come back to Chicago suddenly having all the answers, but I did return with a confidence that I know a hell of a lot more now than I did as a fresh-faced pimple-faced first-year student at the University of Kansas, or even a graduating senior ready to storm the tiny world of North Kansas City community newspapers — then New York and eventually Chicago.

I mingled at a cocktail reception with professors whose knowledge I marveled at just a few years ago, feeling closer to an equal than I ever imagined.

I actually know more than I give myself credit for. We all do.

Life isn't a lecture class with a textbook; it's a big, weird book club reading a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. So far, my plot line is advancing pretty nicely. But I have stumbled, and I will again…and half the fun is turning back a few pages and seeing how you fare the next time around, knowing that one move or another just didn't quite work out.

I learned a lot in college, but the number of things I've learned since then — without even knowing it — is pretty astounding.

That's perspective.

Full of thanks.

It's NaBloPoMo. Which stands for National Blog Posting Month and is fun to say. Some writers are taking on the ridiculous task of writing a blog post every day this month, and while I won't unrealistically commit myself to actually doing this, it's a good excuse to try to write more. I miss writing here; I even miss getting comment notifications in my e-mail that are so mean they make me cry.

One variation on the blogging-every-day theme, which has also found its way to Facebook: A post every day about things we're thankful for. I like it.

I don't express gratitude nearly enough for the things I love, and with Thanksgiving just around the proverbial corner, now's as good a time as any to do a little of that, even if I'm starting six days late for the month.