Monday, April 03, 2017
20 years later
It occurred to me a few weeks back that I have been living in Chicago as of this spring for 20 years. Granted a year and a half of that was an ill-fated brief return to Rockford at the very end of the millenium, but I actually first moved here initially in summer of 1997 freshly out of college and the kind of optimistic that only lasts a little while. As I was flipping through some old journals from around then a couple weekends back, it was sort if surreal reliving in detail finishing up my coursework at RC and moving out on my own for the first time.
Of course, it was terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time. My tiny Lincoln Park apartment with it's mattress on the floor. The broken table stolen from my parent's basement. My bathroom shower view of the top of the Sears tower and nothing else. It was just me and my high school cat, Chelsea, and a year or so later, the new addition of Sophie. There were also an abundance of ants, tiny ones that crawled along the floor cracks, and, about a year in, sizeable roaches that crawled under the hallway door until I covered it with packing tape (thank god by then I had a futon on a frame)). But still in that barely there kitchen I learned how to cook on my own--fried rice, stuffed pasta shells, parma rosa. That summer, I spent a lot of time wandering about after dusk and applying for jobs in bookstores that I never got. (I did have a brief sojourn working at Starbucks that summer.) I don't remember if I was writing much during the transition, that productivity would come a year or so later, but I do remember submitting older work I'd penned in my last months as an undergrad to places like The New Yorker (until I realized my audience isn't exactly the Lexus driving crowd) I'd just discovered Poets and Writers a few months before I graduated, so there was a subscription to that and lots of SASEs.
I was also still trying to figure things out. I'd been admitted to DePaul with the expectation that I would either get a certification to teach HS English (which was what my mother wanted) or to get my MA and then my Ph.d to teach at the college level (which is what I thought I wanted). About a year in, I was steadily realizing that I was neither suited for nor really wanted either of these things. My anxiety, which was actually kinder in those days still made it hard to imagine having the wherewithal to get up in front of a classroom everyday and make it out intact. I am also neither patient or altruistic enough to be a really good teacher. Those anxieties spiraled me into that ridiculous winter of 1998 and its attendant depression, but I emerged with new energies and focus, and that summer, began writing the first poems that showed any sort of promise at all.
I loved most of my classes that first semester--seminars on Victorian Novels and a Bibliography/Research class that focused on the Romantics. I was also just discovering the internet for the first time and lost many a day in the computer lab on PW discussion boards which was all entirely new to me. Since the internet was still very much a limited time thing and not the way of life it is now, I lived more in the real world and at the same time less. I, of course, continued to read a lot. Novels. Poetry. Issues of magazines like the New Yorker and boring things like The Chronicle of Higher Education. Watched a lot of network TV and late night reruns of Seinfeld and X-Files. Spent a lot of time, pen in my hand or my mouth leaning over the wobbly table and a notebook or my sad little Brother Word processor that fall. Music wise, that first summer was all about Fiona Apple's TIDAL, which I distinctly remember putting in my CD player the first night when I was finally alone and unpacking. I didn't sleep that first night, kept the lights on all night, on my own whollly for the first time and terrified and not that I'd be murdered or raped or eaten by tiny ants--but none of these things happened. Besides the roaches and the rent that kept climbing, it was actually a nice little studio in a beautiful neighborhood that I missed greatly when I left.
By the time I returned after year and a half or so away, I'd moved to a cheaper, further afield, neighborhood and a much bigger apartment (with no roaches or ants and which I still live in today), but there is sometimes nevertheless, this weird nostalgia for that time in my life I can't quite put my finger on.