Upcoming reading: 2nd Story “No Fool: Stories of Risk and Strategy” April 1st

Hey all-

I’m fortunate to be reading again with the good folks of 2nd story on April 1st at City Winery. You can buy tickets here.

Even though it’s April Fool’s, our stories are anything but foolish. Here’s an excerpt from mine, “The Bear in the Cage”:

Melissa quickly walked over, but nobody hugged anyone. She immediately asked me, “Have they found her? What’s been going on?” questions I avoided as I grabbed her suitcase. The whites of her eyes shined like a person in a cage with a wild bear. I averted my eyes, so afraid I would say something and ruin the surprise. Like it was a birthday party or something instead of this awful news. My mom jumped in and put her arm around Melissa’s shoulders—No, honey, they haven’t found her yet. You just come with us. Everything will be ok. Don’t worry, everything will be ok. We walked out to the car. I carried the suitcase, trailing behind them.

I took the driver’s seat, grateful to have the distraction. Melissa sat in the front passenger seat while my mom sat in the back. I gripped the steering wheel and entered the ramp onto 90 going west. Our hometown of Bartlett was about 45 minutes away.

Melissa gestured to the sky through the windshield, “I don’t get it. I know she went missing before, but we found her, ” she said. There was this buzzing energy about her that made me nauseous, like there were landmines beneath her skin.

 “I just talked to her earlier in the week. She seemed fine.  We talked about how she was getting her hair done on Friday,” Melissa turned to me, “What do you think, Alyssa? Do you think she’s ok?”

 “I…” my shoulders weakly shrugged, my jaw tensed, my head locked straight ahead. “uh…” Don’t look at her. DO NOT FUCKING LOOK AT HER.  “I don’t know.” There was a vice grip on my throat that made the words sound strange and strangled. She knew me better than anyone. Had she started to put it together?

– alyssa xx

How I Met Bill Murray

Bill-Murray-Youre-Awesome1I met Bill Murray a month ago at O’Hare airport. I had just flown in from Detroit after visiting my family for Thanksgiving. Coming from the terminal, I’m walking to the escalator that will take me to baggage claim. I see someone who looks like Bill Murray going the same way. I think, that looks like Bill Murray but it can’t be. I keep walking towards the escalator, then I notice somebody who looks at the possible Bill Murray too. They say Hey, oh my god, it’s you! They shake hands. I step onto the escalator and think, it must be Bill Murray and, if so, Bill Murray will be stepping onto the same escalator behind me in just a few seconds. A bunch of thoughts flash through my head: I really want to say hi to him–but how? How do I tell him, your films are amazing! (?) I shouldn’t say Ghostbusters. Too old. But I just saw him in Zombieland and Broken Flowers, yea, so I don’t want to reference the old shit. But maybe I shouldn’t bother this man, who’s a human being and probably tired of being bothered, oh MY GOD HE’S BEHIND ME NOW.

Are you who I think you are?

He does one of those corner mouth smiles, classic Bill Murray doesn’t-react-in-his-face thing. (It is him!) He takes a second and kicks the top of my suitcase that is between us. It’s a kick that doesn’t use the rest of his body, only his leg. He says, What do you think? I can’t say anything- Bill Murray just kicked my suitcase! His eyes focus past me, he doesn’t say anything else, but then looks behind him as if to say our interaction is over.

I get off the escalator and walk towards baggage claim, confused and slightly mystified. I see him strike up a conversation with an African American lady who is already laughing. I am jealous — that could have been me laughing.

A year later, I’m walking downtown in the South Loop of Chicago. I’ve just come out of a Caribou Coffee because I didn’t want to go to Starbucks. I have a latte, decaf (I can’t handle caffeine- I always feel like I should explain that, apologize even) in my hand and I’m heading back east towards Michigan Ave on Balbo. I get to State Street and am waiting on the corner alone for the little walkman to come on. A man with a long trench coat steps up beside me. I sip my coffee and glance out of the corner of my eye and holy shit! It’s Bill Murray! Again! I almost choke on my coffee and an escalator of thoughts materializes inside my head: What should I say, will he remember me, should I say anything? Maybe we could actually have a conversation this time or he could make me laugh like the African American woman or I could get his autograph for my dad who was kinda pissed I didn’t get one the last time (my dad loves Ghostbusters). I take a breath, turn to him and say, We met, before, last year, we met! You kicked my suitcase on the escalator at O’Hare?

He looks at me, that corner-of-the-mouth half smile forms again on his face. He reaches out his hand, his pointer finger and thumb forms the OK sign, and he flicks my coffee cup– FLICKS my coffee cup! Some of the coffee erupts out of the plastic drink hole and I jump back slightly and look down to see if anything has spilled on my jacket.

Is this real, are you a real person? I say while wiping away some imaginary coffee. But there’s no answer because Bill Murray has crossed the street, the walkman blinking white and friendly.

I really liked you in Ghostbusters!!! So did my dad!! I yell — I’m not embarrassed about that anymore, I just want him to know all my thoughts — Why do you keep flicking my things, is it something about me?? Why are you downtown in the South Loop, there’s nothing here!

I see him hail a cab (he could have hailed one on my side of the street!). He looks at me once again, and waves before he gets in and shuts the door.

My dad’s going to be so pissed.

A translation of some cryptic tweets as an exercise in writing bullshit

I’m tired of writing about cancer. I know, it was only, like, two posts. But still– it was difficult. So what’s the opposite of cancer? Twitter (though maybe you disagree). Let’s just roll with it for now.

I think the next hip thing to do will be taking your parents out with you everywhere you go

Truffle oil. Skinny jeans. Butt shorts. Bacon in ice cream, waffles, footwear and Snocones. Things from Brooklyn. Ignoring that you’re in the second wave of gentrification by taking part in your neighborhood’s cultural street festivals.  I spend much time wondering, what will be the next new trend and how can I get ahead of the curve? I think the answer will sound a lot like  your mom saying you never call anymore.


also next big thing

I wish I had enough appts with my dentist to start a series called “conversations with my dentist” but at the same time, I’m glad I don’t

After I started my full-time job with a semi-comprehensive healthcare plan, I went to the dentist to catch up on 2 years worth of dental work. While my dentist was filling one of my 20 new cavities, he told me about living in Old Town, one of the originators of the gentrification movement in Chicago, and taking his kids to the park to play. He said there were always a group of young children running around being watched by a 14 year old girl. One day, a couple of younger boys from the group hopped over a fence to pull some air conditioning units down from a building window. My dentist said to the 14 year old girl, “Why don’t you stop them? You know better than that, you’re older than them.” And she said, “I tried to tell them but they won’t listen.” So he went over and told them to stop because it was dangerous and not their property. They hopped back over the fence, and one of the boys, probably around 8 years old, comes up to my dentist and says, “I don’t have to listen to you! I’m a GD!” while flashing a gang sign. My dentist looked at him and said, “I am so disappointed in you.” The young boy hung his head, ashamed, and walked away.

I don’t know about you, but I thought that was a bad ass story. Children still need parents, y’all. And I was like, damn, I really want to have more conversations with my dentist! But that would mean more days spent drooling  out the side of my mouth so…

spotify commerical “your fav band just announced a secret show, but you have a UTI” uh…what?

This was seriously a commercial on Spotify for urinary tract infection medication. It got me thinking of the demographic that really uses Spotify: slutties sequestered at home for the weekend drinking 10 gallons of cran listening to Tori Amos and Ani. Hello again 2000 and 1!

I am in a land where people give hugs for way too long

I performed at a festival that was a free event for families and apparently a major attraction for new-agey people who groove to free art. They were great, don’t get me wrong, but…the long hugs, guys. Really, really awkward, re: I do not want to exchange my energy with you so freely.  Please stick to a 3-second hug rule, and then move on to the plastic bags and painting-with-your-body exhibit with the child you are dragging by your boob.

You can’t bring your cats on your zombie escape plan D:

Dan has already concocted a zombie escape plan for us that I asked him to share after I  saw a zombie movie trailer and got the crap scared out of me. His escape plan only increased my anxiety when he informed me we couldn’t bring Rawr-Rawr and Shmeow-Shmeow in our bike panniers while we cycled out of the city on the Bloomingdale Line.  This is why I live in constant fear of a zombie outbreak.

reminiscing about that time in college when I ate an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s like I didn’t care about living another day


I recalled this memory while in the freezer aisle of some local grocery store. Why I go down those aisles is beyond me considering I can’t buy pretty much anything sold in them. But I came across BJs Chunky Monkey and thought of my college friend Jesse and how we visited the corner store at midnight with the sole intent of each eating a pint of ice cream while watching Friends re-runs in the dorm room common area. We did and it was glorious. I’m pretty sure we made out later too. That was also when I didn’t care about getting mouth herpes either.

That’s sure a snug fit

Dan and I were walking down State Street when a mother and young child walked past us. The mother had on a very tight, short, white dress which was perhaps not super appropriate for outerwear. This was a comment from the group of construction workers who also found her choice in apparel notable.

I’m sorry, but I seem to have run out of compassion today

I was in the midst of wedding planning and didn’t really care if anyone liked my invitations anymore.

what if, like, I needed therapy, but actually just signed up for singing lessons instead


I’ve been in therapy 5 times and recently ended the 5th therapist relationship back in February. It was totally amicable, but now I’m just considering other options for self-expression as it’s tiring to think of going back to therapy to work out the same issues of abuse, repressed anger and commitment problems that I haven’t somehow managed to completely resolve in the last, oh, FIFTEEN YEARS.  Perhaps some of you know what I mean? You just think, man, again? I have to talk about this again? Pass me an accompanist and some bawdy show tunes and let’s Streisand the shit out of that!

“I was in the middle of the best spin of my life!”

This just happened to me during an epic RV trip to Ann Arbor to watch the UM vs Notre Dame game. I know that sentence for many of you will be a major turn-off because you don’t like sports and didn’t think I did either. You’re mainly right though, don’t worry. I don’t like sports. I just like my alma matar kicking the shit out of an annoying team while pushing my body to the edge of it’s 31-year-old partying abilities (which are severely limited in normal life).

Besides that tangent- we stopped at Meijer at 2am (like ya do) and while there was a “striker” team assigned to get more booze and pickle juice, the rest of us tossed the frisbee in the parking lot. Or actually, I talked to my friend Shannon about this black-tie party she went to in Brooklyn. I then pretended to rip off non-existent snap-pants to reveal a non-existent ball gown, which I imagined I’d be wearing at a black-tie event, and started to spin around only to get immediately clobbered by a debilitating frisbee blow to the shin. Upon falling to the ground, I screamed, “I was in the middle of the best spin of my life!” which, despite growing up a child of old-school Disney princesses, I believe to be true. frisbee

what a pleasant surprise

This was what an ex-boyfriend of mine said to me the day we saw each other for the first time after I’d gotten engaged to Dan. It was super awkward because we hadn’t seen each other in about a year and we were at a work function where you can’t act like an asshole– though I wouldn’t say that seeing me was truly a pleasant surprise for him. More like, what a pleasant surprise (you bitch).

sitting on the couch, practicing not being a bitch.

Speaking of being a bitch, this is what I was thinking when Dan didn’t take out the trash or some shit I’m supposed to be upset about as his dutiful wife. Fortunately for all of us, I did successfully repress the urge to fly into a domestic rage.

I’m going to seriously pretend this dude is not watching porn next to me at Caribou Coffee.

I did not succeed, and the event was even more traumatizing because I was unable to finish my foamy latte.


Note: that porno did not contain a buttplug, but this post does contain a Twitter plug, so follow me bitchez: tactlessgrace

My 2nd Story Podcast is UP!


Hooray! My 2nd Story story, “Go On Back to Your Boyfriend” that I wrote and performed in January at Webster’s Wine Bar, is now available in official podcast form!



I’m so ridiculously excited about this, and listened to it on my commute home on Friday with a big, ridiculous smile on my face.

You can click here to listen to the podcast! It’s about 10 minutes, and can be listened to directly on the site, or downloaded for free on iTunes and Sticher. So do it already! I promise you will laugh at least once, especially if you’ve ever made out with a lesbian from the British Navy.

More on the horizon….cheers! xx

laugh mother cry

The product of a writing exercise inspired by the piece “Why I Write” by Terry Tempest Williams, designed and led by the talented teaching artist Alice George:

by Daniel Valentine

by Daniel Valentine

I mother to avoid being a mother

I mother because I fear I will have no children to call my own

I mother to emulate my mother

I mother, filling a hole of giving that is always with me

I mother to keep my heart beating, my soul uplifted

I mother to push away pain

I mother because it’s what I was taught to do and I resent it

I mother so no one feels the pain of abandonment

I mother the hungry, even when their mouths are full

I mother to be a father, sister, brother, auntie, uncle

I mother because I miss my grandmothers and I do not know how to replace them

I mother because I accept the responsibility of other people’s children

I mother to love and feel loved

I mother because I used to work in a place where no mothers existed, fighting the power  that brought children to this place, saying no Fear, no Hopelessness, no Loneliness — these children are mine

Going Home to Dolly

My nonno, my Italian grandfather, passed away this morning. That means I have no more grandparents. Want a grandparent? Don’t ask me! I’m tapped.

Ah, gallow’s humor. Or is it gallows humor? Who is Gallow if it’s his/her/their humor?

My nonno…I won’t lie, he wasn’t this outstanding citizen of the world. He was cranky and miserable; he didn’t treat his children well as they grew up. He always said, “Everyone’s out to get you,” and “Don’t trust nobody!” or “I just want to die,” in this morbid, slightly paranoid way. But I loved him.  When my nonna was alive, they lived only 5 minutes from my parents’ house for the majority of my childhood.  They were my brother and mine’s regular babysitters, always taking us to their home or coming over to visit. My nonno would teach me how to draw and paint; he was a self-taught oil painter who used to make his own brushes out of cloth strips. His oil paintings covered the walls of our house, mostly landscapes and single portraits.  My nonno said he never painted smiling people, because the world wasn’t like that. We would have dinner with them at least a few times a week.  My nonna was a phenomenal cook and would bring over baked ziti, foccaccia, profiteroles, meatloaf…believe me, you’ve never had Italian food like hers, not even at the Olive Garden. And my nonno would call her “Dolly” – “Dahhlly,” he would say — that’s what she has on her gravestone now under her name.

One of nonno's many oil paintings.

One of nonno’s many oil paintings.

Nonno was a captivating storyteller and a jokester. As my nonna was ailing, I started recording both of them telling stories of growing up in Italy, fighting in World War II, raising their kids in a railroad apartment in Brooklyn. Nonno didn’t like Jewish people because he had worked at a garment factory for a Jewish guy who was cheap and mean.  But when I brought home Dan, who’s Jewish, nonno immediately liked him because, “He’s a good guy.  He got a job.” When really, it was the fact that Dan sat and listened to his stories, asked him questions and spent time with him when the rest of the family wanted a break. Nonno would tell me, “that man — he really loves you!” I didn’t want to acknowledge what he saw for a long time, but he was right. He knew a soulmate when he saw one.



After my nonna died, my nonno was revealed in a way. Without her, he said he had nothing to live for, and so was nothing to the world. I know there are statistics regarding long-term relationships about the surviving partner dying usually within a year from their partner’s passing; that’s what was happening to nonno. Even though nonna and nonno fought like crazy, drove each other nuts, they Loved in a big, capitalized way, even into their 80s. It wasn’t the healthiest love, but it gave their lives meaning. Nonna and nonno met in Italy when they were in their early teens; nonna said she knew she was going to marry nonno from that very moment. Nonna was constantly jealous of the older woman who lived across the street from them in their retirement complex. Nonna thought this woman was trying to steal nonno from her, especially when the woman put up a sign in her garden that had an innocuous quote about love on it. My nonna called other women “chickens,” implying that nonno was indeed a rooster, but her rooster only.

I realize that in a way, I loved nonno because of nonna. As an elderly man, it was hard to love nonno because his outlook on life was so bleak.  But with nonna, either alive or in memory, I loved him because she made him a better person. As a child and into adulthood, I could see that they complimented each other in how much they loved their family. We were the center of their universe, and that space overflowed with affection everyday of their lives.

I am sad because my nonno will not be at our wedding. I was really hoping he would make it because I wanted a grandparent there – it just felt important to me as a representation of my life cycle. But also because I wanted something of my nonna there with me; that through his eyes, she’d be able to see her earring that I made into my engagement ring or her wedding picture I’d put up at our ceremony…I miss being able to talk about my wedding planning with her because I know it would have brought her so much joy.  I don’t speak about my wedding in serious or detailed terms with many people, but I would have told her everything, over and over, as much as she wanted to hear it.  Ultimately though, what I want is my nonna and nonno together, when they are their happiest. And that’s how they’ll be at our wedding this summer.

There was a nurse, no doubt of the chicken variety, who was with my nonno when he passed this morning. She said he had a little smile on his face as he stopped breathing. I’m positive it was because he was finally going home to his Dolly.


Performance Reading at 2nd Story! January 13th and 14th

Hurray! Performance time is almost here, a time of love, a time of fear. Just kidding! No real fear, though I’m sure I will be nervous for my very first reading as an ensemble member of 2nd Story, a fabulous organization collecting and curating performances of personal stories in Chicago. If you are in Chicago, and have a few hours to spend listening to well-written, compellingly performed stories of Starting Over, please come to our show on Sunday, January 13th or Monday, January 14th at 7p. Click here for tickets and more information.

And now for an excerpt from my story GO ON BACK TO YOUR BOYFRIEND    (or GOBTYB):

Naomi could tell I was brushing her off. She followed me downstairs to the coat check where she badgered me enough to get my number, and then quickly started dancing into the crowd. Completely put-off, I left the club without bothering to find my friends. I boarded the first leg of my 30-minute commute home to Stoke Newington, London’s answer to Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood. The train was jammed with sloppy drunk English people, all shameless before midnight. The white doors slid shut and I was pressed against very loud, smelly bodies. I made myself as small as possible so no one would notice me…or my type.

A few days later I was sitting on my bed when my phone pinged with a text message from Naomi, “I really enjoyed meeting you. You’re so beautiful. I’d love to take you out this weekend.”

I looked at the text and Naomi’s taunting refrain repeated in my mind: Go on back to your boyfriend. I thought about my decision to leave the US. Had I been overdramatic? Was this living in London thing really going to work, or was Naomi right? In the end, was I just going to go on back to my boyfriend?

Hope to see you there!