All You Can Eat

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah. In this season of excess, I’d like to talk about an area of excess very close to my heart: The buffet. Buffets and I go way back. When I was a kid, “We’re going to Sizzler.” was music to my ears. I was a pain in the ass about food, and Sizzler worked well with my unrefined palate. I can’t imagine my parents loved it. But I did.

Out in the first-ring suburbs of San Francisco, I’d load up on chicken tenders and spaghetti with marinara, plus a giant Sprite. The salad bar and carving station were lost on me. But not the dessert. Sizzler. had. soft-serve. machines. And it was awesome. Sometimes I’d lay a cube of red Jell-O gently to the side of my Oreo-crusted chocolate-vanilla swirl, an artistically placed fruit cube sure to make my sister roll her eyes.

The soft-serve with gelatin backer tradition endured. I was 23 at a Chinese buffet on Belmont and Elston, but this time it was my then-boyfriend snorting at my creation – a neat vanilla twist with green Jell-O and fortune cookie garnish. He eyed the rows of almond cookies, his hand hovering over their rounded, pale yellow tops.

“I’m sure they’re not vegan.” I said. I was mad at him.

He sighed. “Probably not.”

We liked buffets for some of the same reasons. We both liked Chinese food of varying quality, from Chinatown’s best to China Fast Wok to Panda Express at the Des Plaines Oasis (It’s like McDonald’s for Chinese people,” he said, and I mean he was born in Taiwan so who was I to argue). And we liked to eat a lot of it. He didn’t eat animal products but wasn’t highbrow about where his non-meat came from, and liked anywhere that let him load up on vegetables, white rice, and tofu, plus the never that great kappa rolls for garnish. Then another round for noodles and fried rice. We took advantage of endless trips, pacing ourselves to get the most out of our experience.

And it was an experience. I liked to look at other diner’s selections. Every now and then you’d see variety platter from the American section: dried-out pizza, sad fries, and that grossly delicious prepackaged garlic bread. Usually this was kids under seven. Sometimes it was a giant pile of sweet and sour shrimp, the small mound of rice an afterthought. Sometimes it betrayed their not-so-secret sweet tooth, a double plate stacked high with fresh fruit, cookies, and brownies – in my opinion, a waste of stomach space. My own plate was potstickers, green beans, crab rangoon, rice, whatever Hunan or Szcehuan chicken was available, and sometimes beef with broccoli. That was round one. Round two delved further into the starch families: chow fun, chow mein, and occasionally a chunk of cantaloupe for color. Round three was dessert, and maybe more chow fun. It varied, but that was the general format.

I wanted everything. He didn’t. This extended past buffets, into areas beyond limitless egg rolls and General Tso. We didn’t last, but my love of buffets persisted. I haven’t been to one in a long time, not so much out of relationship nostalgia and more the noble and boring goal of trying to eat less like a jerk. But I remember them, a uniquely Chicago United Nations of endless food: Indian. Polish. Pizza. Thai. Old Country Buffet or Golden Corral. Flattop Grill totally doesn’t count.

In theory, I sort of get buffet hate. You’re probably going to overeat. They’re not fancy places. But buffets speak to me of possibility: everything you want is here for the taking. Pick up a serving spoon or metal tongs and go for it – it doesn’t matter if you have a little or a lot, because you can always return. Your decisions aren’t written in stone. You’re allowed to make missteps. It’s freedom, and it tastes really good. Like the fat and salt in a lot of my buffet favorites, that feeling is delicious and addictive. It is important to feel like lots of things can happen, and that you have agency over them. You screwed up the first round with honey walnut shrimp, which with its mayonnaise contents has no business being out there in the first place? It’s cool – theres a gleaming, golden pile of combination lo mein waiting for you. You can make a mistake and come back from it.

Plus, soft-serve machines. Come on.


I Can’t Believe It’s Not Carly

I think what I like best about Carly is that she rarely asks me to do shit for her. And when she does ask me to do something for her, it’s really that she wants me to do something with her.

Things like:

  • going to the movies to drink giant sodas and eat too much popcorn
  • stuffing our faces at:
    • the Wendy’s on Ashland near Fullerton, or;
    • Aloha Eats in Lincoln Park, or;
    • the sketchy Chinese buffet on Belmont, or;
    • Uncle Mike’s (FILIPINO BREAKFAST OMG) on Grand near Paulina
  • reading at live lit shows
  • acting the fool and singing karaoke at her birthday parties

But for this week and the coming weeks I’ll be doing something for her but not with her. I’ll be filling in for her here on the blog and at the Miss Spoken monthly shows at Gallery Cabaret while she is on maternity leave.

Just call me the substitute Carly. I Can’t Believe It’s Not Carly. Crouching Jasmine, Hidden Carly. Carly & Me.

In the history of things that I’ve been asked to do by Carly, blogging for and hosting Miss Spoken is awesome and only slightly terrifying. I like to think that she only asks me to do things that she thinks I would enjoy and, more importantly, would not screw up. I’ve said no to Carly before, and I’m sure I will again, but I couldn’t do it, not this time. And I always have feelings of regret when I do say no.

Sometimes those feelings of regret come with a little puke.

Allow me to explain.

Double Teamed

“Look at her,” he snickered, “hey man, look at her.”

The mid-July sun beat down on my bare shoulders, which were rising towards my ears. I stared down at the magazine in my lap, concentrating harder than ever on anything but the two guys a few feet away. Their whispers got louder, and then:

“Look at her. Look at the little whore.”

Tears blurred the words on my lap. I clutched my copy of Bust tighter, pretending to read. I didn’t know if that had drawn their attention, or if it was my tank top and short skirt, or big chest and long hair. Maybe all of it. Maybe none of it. Maybe being a girl between the ages of 11 and death hanging out by myself was enough.

“Little whore.”

It occurred to me just then that reading alone at a big amusement park wasn’t the best way to blend in. But I was an awkward 13-year-old. I’d brought Bust with me because I couldn’t read it at home. Not after what had happened with my dad.

I’d walked in to him raging around the kitchen, manic and self-righteous in his fury. Bust lay on the kitchen table. I tensed up. I didn’t know what was coming, but it wasn’t going to be good. A small part of my brain flickered angrily, wondering why he was reading my stuff, but I silenced it. Being quiet was my best defense – he’d logic you out of anything until nothing made sense and you weren’t sure who you were or what had passed. He was good at it.

“I found this lying around the house.” He waved the magazine slowly in the air, then plopped it back down. He was big on dramatic effect. I mentally rolled my eyes but my stomach clutched with anxiety, head and gut at war.

“Okay.” I placed one foot over the other.

“And I saw a section,” he inhaled, “Called ‘One-Handed Reads’.”

Ohfuck I thought, jolted. Butwaitbutwait, my brain raced, why are we talking about this?

Hungry Brain

Sometimes when you love a place it creeps up on you. You don’t fall hard and fast right away, and it’s definitely not love at first sight – it was never that pretty. It’s a gradual thing that builds up over nights and then months, until it’s hard to think of the last ten years without it. But you remember your first time.

Hungry Brain is a bar without a sign, but you remember it’s just past Oakley. You’re 19. You like bars. You’re too chicken to get a fake, but your friend works the door and lets you in, accepting the cupcakes you’re carrying with a nod. You asked him to look he other way just this one time because it was your friend’s birthday, just this one time, and he does. He lets you in the second time too, then the third and fourth. “You don’t cause any trouble,” he says in his froggy, rasping voice. “And you bring treats.”

There is no special occasion the fifth time but it feels significant. You drink cheap gin and tonics and look around at a space that resembles a sort of cool older cousin’s basement, if that cousin had a stage and decent beer. It’s comfortable, like a low-key house party where you know enough people to make it familiar but there’s some strangers to keep it interesting. The lighting is low and that makes you confident. There are couches and tables. The tamale guy comes by around 10.

Hello From Suburbia

There is no place like home.

Here I’ve given in to every selfish notion. If I were more able bodied and in less discomfort, I’d enjoy it even more.

But I can’t really complain.

There are home cooked meals, four choices in fresh fruit, cable t.v.s, someone offering to clean my bathroom and launder my towels.

My only job is to relax. And while that’s sometimes maddening, it’s certainly better than the alternative.

I have also completely given in to my physical state of being, which may have been better prepared, say if I were younger and had gone into pregnancy at a normal weight. Instead, the pelvic pressure has me moving at a turtle’s pace and if it weren’t for the goddamn carpal tunnel, I’d stay off my feet even more. I know that walking is good, so I have been trying to pace around the house when I’m up for it. But wandering around Target doesn’t sound fun anymore.

I know everyone’s experience is different, so there’s no sense in bemoaning the fact that “no one told me it was going to be like ‘this'”. Not to mention, I could have this baby any day now and soon I’ll be in a whole different dimension of unknown territory, so no point in dwelling on my current situation.

So yeah. I’ve been doing a lot of nothing. Watching t.v., listening to Serial, eating whatever I want, taking naps and trying to figure out if that was a contraction or just gas.

And I’ve been thinking about you all. I should text and email more and I’m sorry it’s been so quiet on my end. I think sometimes I’m unable to figure out how to deal with the physical distance while still being in someone’s life.

I hope I can still be there for you in some way.


Not That You Asked: Being A Chicago Bulls Fan

I come from the Michael Jordan era.

You know, the days when we used to have the best player in the league, the best number two guy, the best coach, a championship team. Back when I knew every guy, even without totally understanding positions or play calls or triangle offense.

And man, did it feel awesome.

I resurrected my love for them back in the mid-2000’s alongside my then boyfriend. Even though Ben Gordon wasn’t going to take us to the top, they were still a playoff team; hustlers.

So when we got Derrick Rose, there was just so much damn hope. I cried when I saw his MVP acceptance speech. So selfless. So team oriented. So dedicated.

But after these past few seasons riddled with injuries, the energy has been slowly sucked out, like a pinhole in a balloon.

There’s a part of me, and I’m sure a part of all of us, who wanted him to come back and kick ass. To be what he could never be expected to be: The New Michael Jordan.

It’s a completely unfair desire and really, why not just let that be then and this be now?

Because we want to win. We want championship rings and unbelievable regular season records and three peats. We want our guy to go out there with the flu and still hit the winning shot.

While I don’t think we should be coming down so damn hard on Rose, I get it. We are a city that has held on to a not THAT distant past. We were kings. We were unstoppable. Or so it felt like it.

I suppose for me, I just remember watching the old team play and had confidence. I believed we would win.

Now I spend the entire game biting my nails even when we’re up twenty. And for good reason. As really good as we look, this is not that team.

And the sooner we can accept that, the sooner we can come to embrace these guys as the hard working, talented bunch of players who have an awesome coach and a city that just wants them to succeed.


Holiday Letter

Dear Friends of Miss Spoken,

Seasons greetings! Thank you so much for coming out last week for Body Hair. It was a great show. We donated $70 to Open Books, and the stories were touching, uncomfortable, and awesome. From Maya Marshall’s meditative piece on taking things off to Alyssa Sorresso’s brief musical number and Lisa Frank references to Samantha Irby’s hilarious poem, plus everyone in between, we couldn’t have asked for a better way to carry out the year.

That’s right, we’re taking a break in December. You will have to find alternate plans on 12/31 – we trust you’ll figure it out. We’ll be wintering in the balmy twin paradises of suburban Chicago and medium-sized metropolitan Michigan, having a baby (Carly), eating enough Danish butter cookies so as to seem like she’s having a baby (Rose), and otherwise preparing for next year’s show. A couple of announcements:

  •  We’re still looking for readers for our late January show. The theme is “Your Worst New Year’s Eve”. Hit us up if you’ve got a good story.
  • Carly’s taking a break from co-hosting to raise an infant. She’ll still be posting on the blog and otherwise involved. While she’s doing that, Jasmine Davila will be standing in at Gallery Cabaret. Jasmine’s pretty awesome and we’re super-excited. A little more about her:
    • Jasmine Davila has been oversharing on the internet since 2000. She has read for the likes of Solo in the 2nd City,Tuesday Funk, That’s All She Wrote, and 20×2. Please tweet all the cute corgi pictures to her at @jasmined.

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  • That was pretty much it.

Best to you and yours,


Meet Our Readers

Pits. Pubes. Upper lips and legs. This month’s theme is Body Hair. We’ve got a talented crop of women on deck Wednesday to talk about it. I can’t think of a better prelude to your Thanksgiving.

Maya Marshall

missspoken_mayamarshallMaya Marshall is a Cave Canem Fellow. She co-facilitates the Vox Ferus After Dark workshop series. She was a 2013 Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Award finalist. She has led workshops for people ages 8-80 in the Midwest, Southwest, and South America. Her poems have appeared in BlackberryThe LegendaryPoetic Hustles in the Era of Hope and Change, and other publications.

Jessica DiMaio

missspoken_jessicadimaioJessica DiMaio is a graduate of Columbia College’s Fiction Writing program, who then became an esthetician because fiction writing doesn’t pay the bills. Turns out sculpting the perfect brow is as gratifying as crafting the perfect sentence. She wrote her essay while working at a ritzy downtown spa, but she much prefers the clients she has at the Benefit boutique she works for now. You can read more about her adventures in esthetics at



Alyssa Sorresso

Alyssa Sorresso is a creative non-fiction writer and performer living in Chicago. She has performed internationally and at home, including as an ensemble member for 2nd Story and at The Moth slams. Alyssa’s writing was recently published in Creative Non-Fiction Magazine and on OhioEdit. She maintains a blog at, and you can follow her on Twitter @tactless_grace. Please come say hi, because otherwise she’ll probably sit by herself and be somewhat awkward about it.

Lisa White

missspoken_lisawhiteLisa is a born and raised Midwestern girl who’s had numerous adventures and escapades writing. After moving here to attend college she fell in love with Chicago and despite a brief stint in New York returned to the city that feels like home. She cut her teeth writing about music and food around town for various outlets, including Heave, Gapers Block, IE and ChicagoStyle Wedding. She kinda went corporate for a while but like most writers never strayed far away from the clacking of laptop keys. She now is the Associate Editor at Chicagoist where she spends her days writing and editing work about all aspects of Chicago life.

missspoken_liliarissmanLilia Rissman

Lilia Rissman has enjoyed writing for a long time – one of her proudest moments was winning a trophy in fourth grade for her play about Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad.  Most of the writing that Lilia does today involves phrases like “morphosyntax” and “agent-oriented teleological modal base.” She is very happy for the opportunity tonight to pursue a more physical topic. Talk to her later if you would like to know what a modal base is.


Samantha Irby

missspoken_samanthairbySamantha Irby recently published a collection of essays called “Meaty.” You can find her blog at


Being Thankful for Stories and (Open) Books

November’s theme is Body Hair, and in the spirit of Thanksgiving we’re excited to be giving back – not body hair (ew, please don’t do that) but to Open Books, a group we think is pretty great. Here’s the deal: For our just-before-Thanksgiving show, we’ll be accepting cash donations for the nonprofit that provides literacy experiences for tens of thousands of readers each year through inspiring programs and the creative capitalization of books. More about Open Books’ mission, programs, and upcoming events can be found at the links attached to those words.

But wait, there’s more! Besides the opportunity to donate to a great organization, we’ll have stories by Samantha Irby, Alyssa Sorresso, Jessica DiMaio, Lillia Rissman, Maya Marshall, and Lisa White. Plus, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and pie. Hope to see you there.


Waiting For Something

I don’t know what to do with myself.

It’s not an entirely bad thing. It’s not stressful, per se.

But I’m essentially waiting for my entire life to change.

Soon I’ll be living somewhere else.

Then I’ll be waiting for my water to break, to start having the worst pain in my life, to go to the hospital, to give birth, all of which I have no idea how to conceptualize in any realistic way.

When that’s all done, there will be a newborn. My newborn. I will be a mom.

For now though, there is a messy bedroom. Occasionally I’ll try to assess how to pack the rest of my things. But mostly I just lie in bed trying to get comfortable.

So far tonight, I’ve tried sitting through two documentaries, both of which I didn’t finish.

I tried to read a book.

I ate a little food.

I looked at the clock and it was 7:33 PM.

I feel restless and tired at the same time. I don’t want to have to do anything, yet maybe that would help somehow. I could focus on a task that must be completed in the very near future, knowing it had to be done in order to get to the next step. That next step being “The Change”.

My guy is across town at his house and while it makes sense, for selfish reasons I wish he were here. Someone to talk to. Someone to acknowledge the weird limbo that is waiting for your child to be born. For your entire life to be turned upside down.

Instead, it’s Sunday evening and I’m idle, my last week of work in front of me. A job I’ve had for the last eighteen months. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a long time, but it is when each of those months is measured in the form of a life. A baby that was four and a half months old when I first held him to a twenty three month old toddler who runs and plays and points and laughs and is now a little person.

The end of a year in this apartment. The end of a six year streak in Chicago. The end of a life that consisted of social engagements, friend dates, performances and events.

I’m trying to come to terms with all of this. That even once this pregnancy ends, my life will be tied to another, new life. Even if I came back to everything just as I’d left it, I will be the difference.

So maybe it’s OK that I’m a little bit paralyzed, a little bit unsure of what it is I’m “supposed” to be doing right this minute.

Because this is new territory, albeit temporary, too.



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