As I walk through the city of Chicago, I always admire the towering giants that touch the clouds and sing of human ingenuity, achievement, and a constant stride towards the sky. I love the city. I know without a doubt that this is the world in which I belong. I love that you can travel the length a breadth of it on established transit. I love that a bus is rarely more than a twenty minute wait to go wherever your heart carries you. A train no more than ten. Getting where you are going is never a problem. Choosing where to go offers seemingly infinite possibility.
Chicago holds an intoxicating blend of old world grace and craftsmanship with the new, bold, and practical. On the block where I walk from the bus stop into work there is a building that practically shouts, “I was cutting edge in the sixties.” standing next to it, a building that quietly says, “Al Capone once met a girl for drinks in my lobby.” Then as you cross the street there is another building that may have once been a factory, but now houses students whose parents pay their tuition. To get to the park across the street from my apartment, you pass through a concrete tunnel under the expressway. It sounds like it should be a dull walk, but there are beautiful murals painted by a local art studio, all of which have mosaic tiles woven into each unique piece. There is a stream of flowers caught in the air, followed by an octopus, followed by a proud eagle, finished by a 1920’s style painting of people in a park. When you emerge from the tunnel, you see a fountain-empty now for the winter, but I imagine flowing and graceful when the garden thaws. This is the peace garden, which is connected to a lovely nature path that leads to the marina. It’s name does it justice. I find it very peaceful to walk here, and often do.
Lately I’ve been feeling rather cut off from the world though. It’s amazing how a place so filled with people can be so alarmingly lonely. I find I have nobody to talk to when things don’t go as planned-as lately they really haven’t. When my work life makes me crazy and I want to vent, there is nobody to listen, save my cat, and I’d rather not dive down that particular rabbit hole just yet.
In these moments, I wonder if I made a mistake moving so far from everything familiar. It isn’t that I want to go home exactly; it’s that a wish a bit of the home feeling had come here with me. I want this place that seems to mesh so well with who I am to be somewhere I feel I can hang my hat and stay. I know I ought to have more patience, as I have only lived here 5 months. Already I have an apartment, a job, and tentatively a writing group- though I haven’t been able to go in some time due to work. My schedule will be freed up a bit in March (so I’ve been promised) and maybe then I won’t feel so melancholy. Until then, I’m going to do my best to keep my chin up. That’s all anyone can ever ask, right?
I have been working strange and varied hours lately, which has made blogging a bit of a challenge. I have decided my new post days will be Sundays. I know it is less often than I was posting before (not counting the missed weeks of posts since I arrived in Chicago) but it is a schedule I may have an easier time adhering to.
As far as Chicago goes, I am settling in. I have learned which trains to take, which areas to avoid, and where the best shopping is. I am earning a regular paycheck-something I have not had in several years- and am enjoying life in the city.
I have had adventures that I would not have had back home, such as apple picking, shopping in the loop,
Seeing random, beautiful sights while wandering the city, and of course a brand new experience for this SoCal native: living in the snow.
The first snow was quite an experience for me. It is so beautiful, and I seem a bit touched in the head when it falls, because I can’t resist stomping through it to leave my footprints, all the while giggling uncontrollably. My roommate is also from Cali, and so we share this ridiculous and childish desire to play in the stuff. His boyfriend thinks we are very strange, and tells us so, which leads to the inevitable snow fight. I say “snow” and not “snowball”, because we just scoop up handfuls and fling it at one another. We end up wet and freezing, but somehow it still makes me happy.
I thought Christmas would be a sad day for me, but my mother, in her infinite motherly wisdom, knew I would have a rough time my first Christmas alone and sent me a box of Christmas cheer. She sent a miniature tree, a strand of lights, and some stockings along with a box of presents. It warmed my heart and made me feel so very loved, even from so far away.
Though I worked on Christmas day, I put a pot roast in the slow cooker, and had a wonderful Christmas dinner with my roommate and his boyfriend. It was the first time that Chicago felt like home.
Now, as the snow sticks to the ground, and I finally have a day off, I am catching myself daydreaming about Jeremy, Fairies, and what is in store for Sidhee.
Like any storm that catches us unaware, my writing block is passing, and I find myself ready to open the shutters, pick up the pieces, and rekindle my literary efforts.
I know I haven’t been on much. I apologize for the silence. If you have been following along, then you know my move to Chicago could only be permanent if I found a job. I am very pleased to announce I have found said job, and internet service (and my life) has been restored. I celebrated my 30th birthday last week, and I have decided the universe gets credit for my birthday job (I got the call for my interview on my actual birthday). The first step in finding my happy place in the world has been taken. Let us hope more leaps forward are forthcoming.
As for my books, I wish I could say I have been writing up a storm. Unfortunately, I seem to be completely out of synch with my creative inner voice. Perhaps it is that I am preoccupied with the enormity of how my life has changed in the last month- or perhaps that is what I am telling myself to let myself off the hook. Either way, my mind is in a different place than I would like it to be right now.
Recently, a writer friend of mine passed away. She was elderly, and she knew it was coming. Still, at my age is comes as a shock when someone leaves your world. More so when you learn about it via e-mail. Since I am not feeling particularly creative, and since my friend is on my mind, I will tell you the parts about her that left a mark on my life.
The woman who I will miss was named Evelyn McGraw. When I met her, she was already 90 years old. She attended the first writing group I was a part of, a group focused on indie writers that are new to the world of serious writing.
Evelyn wrote lovely, old fashioned poetry. She often wrote about growing up on a farm, the novelty of her grandmother’s home when she was a child, or observations of the beauty in nature all around us. She had a great fondness for than changing of the seasons. Every piece she wrote was a lovely, positive reflection on the world. Her writing really made you appreciate the world through her eyes, though she never gave herself a single ounce of credit for the craftsmanship of her words.
I often sat next to Evelyn in class. She was hard of hearing, and so I would repeat the advice and critiques that her peers offered up for her from out of hearing range. She always took advice and criticism gracefully, and applied that advice to her works. Some of those works can be found in A Tapestry of Verse, published by The Word Weavers Guild- edited by our fearless leader John Kelly. I was told they put out a second book this summer. I have yet to get my copy, so I am uncertain if Evelynn’s work will be in that book.
Sitting and talking with Evelyn helped me to get to know her. I found out she got her pilots license in the 1930’s, when women rarely did such things. She never made a big deal of it, but when she spoke of flying it was always with fondness.
One of my favorite things about Evelyn was that she seemed to get me. I’m a bit weird, and I write bizarre poems and stories (which you know if you have read my work). It’s always made me feel like I don’t quite fit in, especially with a traditional writers, like memoirists and historical writers-which is the predominant style of writer in the town where I am from. Evelyn never once made me feel anything but appreciated. She always smiled and said she was glad to see me every time we came to class, and I often got a hug as if she were a favorite aunt or grandmother. She praised my work, and more than once wrote on the top of my submissions not to change a word.
I adored Evelyn, but it never occurred to me that I mattered to her too, until last April.
Evelyn told the class she wasn’t going to be attending anymore, because it was getting too hard to make the trip. She wanted to have a “Christmas rehearsal” party, because she said she did not think she would live to see another Christmas. I wish she had been wrong, but I’m glad she had the foresight to plan it.
John asked everyone in the group to write a piece in their own style for Evelyn, and I was asked to made a cover image for a notebook we gave her to keep all of our gift works in. Most people wrote really touching letters to her about all the reasons we thought she was awesome. It was like a birthday party, where she was the guest of honor. She was happy, and you could tell she was very touched by how much we all cared about her.
I, as I so often do, deviated from what everyone else did. I was asked to write a piece in my style for her, and that is exactly what I did. I thought about all the things Evelyn talked about in the couple years I knew her, and I recalled a poem she wrote based on an experience she had playing with old antiques in her grandmother’s attic. And so, I invented a story and set it to poetry about a little girl named Evelyn pearl (a play on the old fashioned term of endearment for someone you love or treasure) who goes up to play in her grandmother’s attic. I have posted it on my blog before, but I have included it at the bottom of this post so you can reared it in context of you would like.
After we all read our contributions to her, and she tucked each page safely in her notebook, Evelyn brought out presents she had gotten for everyone. She gave me a beautiful figurine of a fairy dancing around a rose branch. While people were eating, Evelyn walked up to me and said, “Do you know why I got that for you?”
I smiled and said, “Because it’s a fairy?”
“Because it’s a fairy, just like you. Every time I see a fairy I think of you. And when I saw that, I knew I had to give it to you, because she looks like she came from one of your stories.”
My eyes watered, and I gave her a huge hug.
That’s the last time I saw her, and it is a beautiful memory to me.
I love that fairy, and I still have her. She is all wrapped in bubble wrap back in California, soon to be sent to me here in Chicago.
It’s funny how much a single person can impact your life, and how you don’t even realize it’s happened.
So here is the message I want to share this week, reader:
Cherish the memories; even the small ones. Even if you are young. They always matter.
So I made the big crazy move to Chicago. I got here in one piece, more or less, my poor kitty in tow. He handled the plane better than I thought he would, but I did take him to the vet to get a mild sedative before I left. It truly is a different world than what I am used to. I’m from a small town with a majority senior citizen population, and everyone drives everywhere. Here everyone walks or rides the transit everywhere, and everything here is big.
I mean, really big. I now live in a 16 story building, and it is dwarfed by the buildings on either side.
Finding my way hasn’t been easy, and my roommate has been really patient with me, guiding me wherever I need to go. I don’t have a lot of pictures yet, because I haven’t done any sightseeing of any kind. I sometimes wonder if I have done something insane. I probably have, but Eff it! I’m here. I’m going to make it work.
With that in mind, yesterday I joined a new witting group. This was my first time venturing out alone in the big city, unless you count the coffee shop a couple doors down from my building. And of course, I had to go to an evening writing group, because I never make anything easy on myself. Navigating home in the dark, luckily, was not scary at all, since one of the folks in my writing group lives in the same part of town as me, so I walked with him. I am in a reputable part of town, so it is unlikely I would be mugged, but still. I like the statistics better when I’m not on my own.
Like everything in this foreign time zone, this group operates differently than the ones I have attended in the past. In this group, peer review has nothing to do with it. First they write independently of one another for about two hours give or take, then they gather for a discussion. My writing groups in the past would read six pages of a manuscript, then have a discussion where critique and review was offered, and then we would read the next manuscript. I even had one group that had a writing prompt at the beginning of every session. But hey, new city= new life + new method.
I have to admit, reader, than I have not been inspired to write at all lately. Mostly I’ve been feeling overwhelmed. First with the last minute decision to uproot my whole life and move halfway across the country, and the chaos that ensued in my household. Then, the day after I got here I came down with a stomach flu. YAY. Also, I don’t have internet in my apartment, so I have to go downstairs to the coffee shop. Their Wi-Fi only seems to work in the front half of the building, which is always packed with laptop-mesmerized patrons. I lucked out on Monday and got a spot, but I couldn’t update my blog because I needed to use my precious internet time to apply for jobs. Nobody seems to use paper applications here anymore. So don’t be surprised if there are interruptions in my regular postings. I will try, but life happens.
My friendly editor has the first draft of The Gatestone Chronicles: Fayling. I have some more work to do on the ending, but we are nearly there. Provided, of course, that I can find my way back to the world it takes place in. Hopefully things will settle down soon, and I can get back to my usual groove.
Kristin Swartfager is working on the art for Timmy Tommy Tum, our collaboration project for kids. There have been a few delays with that, but never fear, we are still working at it.
*While this poem auto-posted, I boarded a plane to Chicago with a one-way ticket in hand. I am attempting to make it in the big city. Should I find a job before my savings runs out, I will become a resident of Illinois. Should I run out of money, I will return to California knowing I gave it my best shot. There may be a few interruptions in my blog posts, but for the most part, I will continue to write as usual; I am after all, a writer first, a human second. That being said, expect pictures.