Getting Personal: Brenda Koenig

Getting Personal: Brenda Koenig

 

Getting Personal is an email Q&A with a local personality. Here, Melissa Merli chats with Brenda Koenig, a musician, writer, mother, substitute teacher and all-around utility player. In the Aug. 26 newspaper, we'll have a chat with Sandra Ahten, who runs several self-employed ventures, including writing, art, life coach, business manager and even Hawaiian ice. 

What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?

I get up when I need to ... sometimes early, sometimes late. Ideally, my first hour includes several cups of coffee (cream and a bit of sugar, thank you), reading the news of the day and making a to-do list.

What did you have for lunch today? Where? With whom?

Today, I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with my daughter, Sage, at home. We were rushing to get to her art class at Krannert.

Best high school memory.

Oak Street Beach in Chicago on prom night, around midnight. Listening to U2 on the radio and watching friends sail out into the night. I remember wishing I could be on the boat with them. It was a beautiful and lonely feeling at the same time.

Tell me about your favorite pair of shoes.

Summer: Mion sports sandals (now discontinued). Winter: a pair of black Italian leather ankle-high sport boots.

What does a perfect Sunday afternoon include?

It would include a county fair spinning-swing ride over the water (like the one at Indiana Beach) with my kids, a kayak float down a clear, rocky stream, a raucous game of euchre, a gin and tonic, an old-time music jam and camp-out with good friends and several moments of grace, like getting a hug from someone you never thought would reach out to you. Can you do all that in an afternoon?

Was there one book you read as a child that you still cherish? Own? Read?

My great-grandmother was born in the Arctic Circle on Baffin Island and wrote several books about her life among the Inuit and Hudson Bay Company people. These books were passed down to me when my grandmother died, and I still read them from time to time.

Where on Earth are you dying to go? Why?

That's a hard one. There are so many places I want to go. Northern Labrador in August, New Zealand and Portland, Ore. Portland because I want to visit my friend Lisa, aka Miz Kitty, who has a vaudeville show there. We were band mates in Chicago in the early 1990s.

Tell me about your favorite pet.

Well, for many years, I considered myself a cat person, but in January, we adopted a spitz mix from Decatur Animal Control and she has quickly moved into that sweet spot in my heart. Polka is really a circus dog who has lost her ringmaster, I think.

Have you discovered that you are becoming like one of your parents? Which one and how?

I'll avoid that question for the most part, but my forgetfulness reminds me of my mother, an artist and space queen extraordinaire.

What would you order for your last meal?

It would have to include Vanilla Swiss Chocolate Almond ice cream from Haagen-Dazs, Esquire french fries and pizza from Slice in New Orleans. And a stiff drink.

What can you not live without?

My foam earplugs, coffee, travel, art and music.

Who do you have on your iPod?

Josh Ritter, Modest Mouse, The Rolling Stones, Liz Carroll, Tom Waits, Patti Smith, The Freighthoppers, Wilco, Rufus Guinchard (Newfoundland fiddle), Laurie Anderson, Damien Rice/Lisa Hannigan, Crooked Still, the Mammals, Rickie Lee Jones, XTC, King Crimson, The Volo Bogtrotters, Boozoo Chavis, Sleater-Kinney, Serge Gainsbourg, Bob Dylan, I Draw Slow.

What's the happiest memory of your life?

Hearing my daughter cry when she was born. Both she and her brother, Jonas, were born early and struggled for the first months of their lives. We weren't sure if they would make it. That is a tie with watching my son, Corbin, dance. He is 14 and in New York City right now on a summer scholarship for the second year in a row with the Dance Theater of Harlem. Here in town, he dances with CU Ballet, and their productions are always so magical.

If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite?

A comedian because I love to laugh: Jim Gaffigan comes to mind, although sometimes comedians aren't really funny off stage. A sense of humor is golden, in my opinion. Fidel Castro, the street artist Banksy and Dr. Paul Farmer. Any three disparate luminaries, actually. That would make for a memorable dinner, I think.

What's the best advice you've ever been given?

You can do anything you set your mind to.

What's your best piece of advice?

Don't be afraid of failure. Take risks.

What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?

My first job was being a newspaper girl for The Chicago Tribune. I had to get up at 5 and deliver the route every morning when I was 10 to 13 years old.

What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?

I decided not to pursue a Ph.D. in English. At the time, I was writing surreal poetry and political, narrative surreal poetry at that ... not very popular in the 1990s. I realized that although I was well-suited for academia, I wasn't well-suited for the personal politics that played such a huge role in my field on that level. I eventually started writing nonfiction pieces and found that journalism, like film media, actually had the potential to immediately effect positive change in society — plus way more people read articles than poetry! But poetry still sneaks into my writing and into my life from time to time. Once a poet, always a poet. I do have a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from George Mason University in Virginia.

Do you have a bad habit? What is it?

If on a roll, I can discourse tangentially for quite a while. I also have strong opinions and sometimes lack restraint in expressing said opinions. I'm doing better now, thankfully. I've even stopped biting my nails.

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