Thursday, July 14, 2016
In 1989, I decided I wanted to live in Chicago. I was 15, and on a bus trip to the Field Museum and The Oriental Institute. It was spring and it was all about mummies, which we had been dutifully studying in freshman World history class. I remember the bus driving through what I would later learn was Hyde Park--the tree lined streets, the brick rows of houses and three flats. It was very different from the rows of identical houses I was used to in Rockford (my parents abode is out in the country a bit, but we were always surrounded by endless subdivisions, mostly late 70's/early 80's construction. Squat flat ranches and bi-levels) As close as the city was for all those preceding years, we had pretty much never visited. There were occasional trips to Brookfield Zoo, but we'd only skirted the city for the most part and never ventured inside. I was smitten enough by Hyde Park, but then, caught site of the lake, and it was all over.
I was a teenager obsessed. For the next two years, I tried to squeeze as much Chicago into my life as I could. There was a field trip in to see Les Miserables at the Auditorium. French class trips to restaurants and The Art Institute Even more than Hyde Park, I loved the deep canyons of downtown. the sprawl of Grant Park and the cliff on buildings overlooking it. I convinced my parent into the city for more museum outings, The Field again. Science and Industry. I collected postcards of the ever changing skyline. When it came time to go to college, I was momentarily distracted by the sea and chose to head to North Carolina. But when I decide to return, I plotted ways to get here. It worked out that I was still stuck in Rockford for a few years to finish my undergrad, but there was little doubt where I would be heading to grad school. By then, our trips into the city had become a little more regular due to my mother's adoration of Michael Jordan and the Bulls, so we were in and out a lot, and when I was accepted into Depaul's M.A program, we were immediately combing Lincoln Park for a studio close enough to campus.
Those first few months in that tiny studio were so dreamy (well dreamy and terrifying). Being on your own for the first time. Having your very own tiny kitchen and implements. Your own bathroom with, if you opened the window and looked up, a view of the very top of the Sear's tower downtown. It was tiny, and my bathroom was sort in of IN my closet, but I loved it--the high ceilings, the wood floors, the clanky radiators. I loved the neighborhood, which despite its proliferations of older yuppies, young Trixies, and drunken Depaulians, was also, like Hyde Park, tree lined and beautiful and most importantly OLD and historic in a way Rockford never was. I loved walking around at night, as the neighborhood was slowly going to sleep and people were taking their dogs out for that final stroll. And I wrote so many poems in that apartment at that rickety table salvaged from my parent's basement. There , or on the floor, back against the futon, typing on my Brother word processor. Waited for so many rejections but also what would be my first real acceptance at the row of mailboxes in the lobby.
When I decided to move back to Rockford, it was more of a desperation thing--no jobs were biting and I'd soon run out of excess student loan money. It was a mistake probably in retrospect, and set me back a little in terms of getting on with my life, but probably necessary. It seemed like a good idea until I actually did it and then missed Chicago horribly during those 18 months or so. The day I was hired at CCC and able to make plans to move back is probably right up there with all-time-happiest life moments. Right up there with getting my first book accepted. Right up there with signing the lease on the studio. The rest was just all about waiting for my real life to start. And real life meant Chicago.
Even now, I am still very much in love with The South Loop, where I spend a good segment of my days between the library and the studio. And, of course, still in love with Edgewater, where I've lived for the past 16 years. I even still love my apartment (even with the recent bathroom aged drum trap sludge incident) Have written and created so much within its walls, founded a press, wrote so so many poems sprawled across my bed. and at other rickety tables and desks. Collected so many books and cats and interesting things. And yes, the lake, most importantly. Every morning, right there out the bus window and all the way downtown. It's many moods and seasons. Still the thing that, despite what I will say to you in January cold, is something I will never leave, at least for very long.